A judge has ruled that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief protected under UK law.
Jordi Casamitjana, an “ethical vegan,” claims he was dismissed by his employer, animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports, in April 2018 because he informed colleagues that their employer’s pension fund was “being invested in companies that experiment on animals” and non-ethical funds – a claim the charity has rejected.
Ethical vegans not only follow a vegan diet, but also oppose the use of animals for any purpose, such as animal testing.
At an employment tribunal on Friday, judge Robin Postle said he was “satisfied overwhelmingly” that ethical veganism meets the criteria of the Equality Act to qualify as a philosophical belief.
In a short summary judgment, Postle declared that veganism “clearly in my view meets all the criteria; It is a philosophical belief, not just an opinion.”
“It is cogent, serious and important, and worthy of respect in democratic society,” he added.
Casamitjana brought the landmark legal case to court on Thursday, hoping to force a change to Britain’s Equality Act that would see veganism included as a philosophical belief protected from discrimination.
The law, passed in 2010, defines “religion or belief” as one of the nine “protected characteristics,” which include race, sex, pregnancy and maternity and sexuality, making it unlawful for employers to discriminate on those grounds.
For Casamitjana to qualify for protection under the act, his lawyers had to prove that veganism is “a belief and not an opinion,” that it has “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance,” and that it is “worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”
Casamitjana expressed his satisfaction with the judgment.
“I’m extremely happy with the outcome of this hearing and for the words of the judge who clearly understood what ethical veganism is. I didn’t expect to have a judgement today but the overwhelming weight of the evidence we have provided seems to have been sufficient for the judge to conclude that I’m the ethical vegan I say I am, and that ethical veganism is a protected ‘non-religious philosophical belief,’” he said in a statement.
“I am not alone. Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans. Hopefully, from my dismissal, something positive will come by ensuring other ethical vegans are better protected in the future,” he added.
Peter Daly, the employment lawyer representing Casamitjana, said the recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 would have “potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services.”
“I’m pleased with how the hearing today has gone and we look forward to receiving the full judgement in due course. This was the first of a two part employment tribunal. Now the question of ethical veganism has been determined by the judge, the litigation will move on to determine the lawfulness of Jordi’s treatment by the League Against Cruel Sports,” Daly said in a statement.
Casamitjana argued that identifying as an ethical vegan involves “much more than just not eating food with animal ingredients,” and is a “philosophy and a belief system” encompassing most aspects of his life.
Rhys Wyborn, employment partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, who acted for the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “Although an interesting point of law, this hearing was preparation for the real crux of the matter: why Jordi Casamitjana was dismissed. In view of its animal welfare value, the League did not contest the issue of whether ethical veganism itself should be a protected belief, with the League maintaining that it’s irrelevant to the core reason for the dismissal.
“The League is now looking ahead to the substantive hearing in this case and to addressing the reason for Mr. Casamitjana’s dismissal, which it maintains was due to his misconduct and not the belief he holds.”