Is veganism a protected class?

Update, January 3, 2020: A brief item in the Telegraph reports that the judge has accepted that veganism is indeed a “philosophical or religious belief” subject to protection.[1] That would be a necessary but insufficient condition for the sacked employee, Jordi Casamitjana, to prevail, however, and the piece makes no mention of any disposition on the employer’s claim that he committed “gross misconduct.”


So here’s an interesting case: A man discloses to fellow employees, not the public, but fellow employees, that his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, “invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing.” Said employer fires his ass, alleging gross misconduct.[2]

Which seems to me to be a rather extreme overreaction.

The man has brought his case to an employment tribunal under the United Kingdom’s Equality Act 2010 alleging “he was discriminated against on the basis of his ethical veganism belief.” Which raises the question of “whether veganism is a ‘philosophical or religious belief’.”[3] In the following quotation, I’m converting the BBC’s bullet points to an ordered list:

“Religion or belief” is one of nine “protected characteristics” covered by the Equality Act 2010.

It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate directly, by treating an employee less favourably than others because of their religion or belief.

To qualify as a philosophical belief, veganism must:

  1. be genuinely held
  2. be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  3. attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  4. be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
  5. be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.[4]

I don’t see any issue with the first four points. Certainly food and clothing are “weighty and substantial aspects of human life and behavior” in point 2, and further, this former employee “will, for instance, walk rather than take a bus to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds,”[5] a choice that approaches Jainism in reverence. It goes beyond that of most vegans, strongly supporting point 1 and reinforcing point 2. I don’t even see how you argue points 3 or 4.

It’s point 5 that interests me. This would require that veganism “be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available”[6] and seems to me to turn on the question of nonhuman animal sentience.

The entire point of veganism relies on increasing evidence in support of claims that nonhuman animals are not, as René Descartes at least attempted to claim, simply automatons,[7] that they suffer, experience pain, are self-aware. That’s an available state of information. The belief here is really an animal rights position that nonhuman animals should be accorded ethical protection, that is, that their autonomy should be protected.

The employer “does not contest that veganism should be protected”[8] and it seems to me the former employee should prevail on this point even if the BBC article presents it poorly.

And I just don’t see how telling your fellow employees at an animal welfare organization that the organization invests in nonhuman animal testing is “gross misconduct.”

  1. [1]Telegraph, “Veganism is a philosophical belief and is therefore protected by law, judge rules,” January 3, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/01/03/veganism-philosophical-belief-therefore-protected-law-judge/
  2. [2]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case,” January 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50969168
  3. [3]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case,” January 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50969168
  4. [4]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case,” January 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50969168
  5. [5]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case,” January 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50969168
  6. [6]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case,” January 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50969168
  7. [7]Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “René Descartes,” last modified January 16, 2014, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes/
  8. [8]British Broadcasting Corporation, “Sacked vegan brings landmark discrimination case,” January 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-50969168

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.