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8th October 2019

Tribunal Tale – Discrimination against vegetarians

In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd. the Norwich Employment Tribunal was invited to consider whether vegetarianism was capable of amounting to a philosophical belief and was, therefore, a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

In order to amount to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act the belief must be more than a mere opinion; be a weighty, substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; be worthy of respect in a democratic society; and be compatible with human dignity.

While the tribunal accepted that the Claimant held a genuine belief in vegetarianism and animal welfare, vegetarianism in itself was not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief. Submissions from the Claimant’s counsel cited case law in which Lord Walker of Gesingham had stated that vegetarianism was an ‘uncontroversial example of a belief’ under article 9 (of the European Convention of Human Rights).

However, the Tribunal were persuaded by the Respondent’s submission that there was not enough cohesion or consistency among vegetarians in relation to their reasons for being vegetarian so as to afford vegetarianism a similar status or cogency to a religious belief and this was essential for the belief to amount to a protected characteristic. As individuals may become vegetarian for a variety of reasons including health, lifestyle and personal taste, as well as for reasons of concern for animal welfare, vegetarianism did not meet the test.

Interestingly, the Tribunal commented that this seemed to be unlike veganism which was much more consistently practiced for reasons of animal welfare. Later this month a different tribunal will be invited to rule on whether veganism is capable of amounting to a philosophical belief. Certainly one to watch.

If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Helen Donnelly.

8th October 2019