Jennifer Rowlinson | Associate

You are what you eat? – a Discrimination Case

The Norwich employment tribunal was recently asked to decide whether a Vegetarian could bring a claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief. The Claimant argued his vegetarianism was a protected characteristic which is covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 protects you if you have a protected characteristic and you’re treated unfairly because of the protected characteristic.  There are 9 protected characteristics which are protected by the Equality Act 2010: –

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership (in employment only)
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010

Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 defines religion or belief as:

  • Religion means any religion and a reference to a religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.
  • Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to a belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.

The Facts:-

Mr Conisbee was employed by Crossley Farms Limited from April 2018 until he resigned on 30th August 2018. Mr Conisbee claimed he was ridiculed at work for not eating meat. During evidence he confirmed he left his role after claiming he was “told off” for wearing an un-ironed shirt at work, he also claimed he was shouted at and “may have been sworn at” in front of customers.

The Respondents did not dispute that Mr Conisbee is a vegetarian and did not dispute he had a genuine belief in vegetarianism. Their defence was that being a vegetarian cannot amount to a protected characteristic.

The Decision:-

Judge Robin Postle concluded that vegetarianism is not a belief capable of protection. The Judge accepted the Respondent’s position that vegetarianism is a lifestyle choice. The Judge said there were many reasons people might not eat meat, but that vegetarianism as a belief must have a “similar status or cogency to religious beliefs”. He added that holding a belief relating to an important aspect of human life of behaviour was “not enough in itself”. Accordingly, the tribunal ruled Vegetarianism is a “lifestyle choice” and not a philosophical belief capable of protection under equality legislation.

Future case for Veganism

The Respondent distinguished between a vegetarian and a vegan. They stated vegetarianism is accepted to be the practice of not eating meat or fish. A vegan is a “person who does not eat or use animal products”. Thus, veganism is a practice of abstaining from both the consumption of and use of animal products.

Judge Postle accepted the Respondent’s position that the reason for being a vegan is largely the same. “Vegans do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products, and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control. There you can see a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism, i.e. having numerous, differing and wife varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism.”

The Tribunal was not asked to decide whether veganism amounts to a philosophical belief in this case. However, this latest case suggests there may be a plausible argument for considering veganism as a philosophical belief which is capable of being accepted by the Employment Tribunal.

Jennifer Rowlinson

Jennifer Rowlinson

Personal Injury Team

“I particularly enjoy being involved in court hearings and helping my client’s feel supported through the court process from beginning to end”

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