In the recent case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others, an Employment Tribunal held that vegetarianism did not qualify for protection as a belief under the Equality Act 2010.
The claimant, Mr Conisbee, was employed as a waiter for 5 months. He resigned claiming he had been bullied by colleagues for his meat-free diet. He brought claims of discrimination against his employer on the grounds of religion and belief contrary to the Equality Act 2010 (the “Equality Act”). He argued that his “genuine belief” was vegetarianism and that it amounted to a protected characteristic.
The test as to whether a belief should be protected under the Equality Act was set out in Grainger Plc v Nicholson, a case about a belief in climate change. This case established that, in order for a belief to be worthy of protection, it must:
- Be genuinely held;
- Be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint;
- Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
In analysing the case, the Employment Tribunal applied the tests set out above and concluded that the claimant’s belief was genuinely held and worthy of respect in a democratic society. However, it failed to meet the remaining hurdles for protection and therefore did not quality for protection under the Equality Act.
The Judge stated that vegetarianism did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and was a lifestyle choice. It was merely a result of the claimant’s viewpoint that “the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food”.
The Judge also said that the claimant’s belief did not attain the required level of seriousness and importance, as people adopt a vegetarian lifestyle for a variety of reasons, ranging in severity. Controversially, he contrasted this with veganism, stating that there is clearer cogency and cohesion in vegan belief.
Finally, the Judge stated that vegetarianism did not have similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.
This case is an example of how a tribunal might approach a discrimination case based on vegetarianism. It suggests that there is a difference between ethically held beliefs and lifestyle choices.
However, this is a first instance tribunal decision, so is not binding on other tribunals and may, in any event, be appealed. Given the growth in vegetarianism, veganism and other specific dietary trends, it seems highly likely that this point will come up again. In fact, the comment in this case on veganism will almost certainly feature in the tribunal arguments later this month in the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports where the tribunal is making a decision on whether ethical veganism is a protected belief under the Equality Act.