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Equality Act - Employee Who Broke the Law in the Name of Ethical Veganism Was Not Protected

on Friday, 01 July 2022.

An ethical vegan who believed she was under an obligation to expose and reduce animal suffering by breaking the law, did not qualify for protection under the Equality Act.

In the case of Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College (the RVC), Ms Free Miles was dismissed by the RVC following her arrest in connection with alleged burglaries by the Animal Liberation Front. Ms Free Miles argued her belief in ethical veganism included a moral obligation to take action to reduce animal suffering. She brought Tribunal claims including a claim for direct and indirect philosophical belief discrimination.

In order to succeed in her claims, the Tribunal would have had to accept that Ms Free Miles' beliefs amounted to a philosophical belief under section 10 of the Act.

What Is a 'Philosophical Belief' Under the Act?

Religion or belief (including philosophical belief) is a protected characteristic under the Act. The 2010 case of Grainger v Nicholson set out the five criteria for establishing the types of philosophical belief that will be protected under the framework in the Act (the Grainger criteria):

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

The final Grainger criterion was significant to the Tribunal's decision in Ms Free Miles' case.

Does Ethical Veganism Count as a Philosophical Belief?

The Tribunal found ethical veganism can be a protected philosophical belief under the Act. However, Ms Free Miles' belief included a belief she was under an obligation to break the law. Her belief therefore did not satisfy the fifth element of the Graingertest.

What Can Employers Learn from This Decision?

This is a first instance decision, so it will not be binding on other Tribunals. Nevertheless, it is a logical decision that offers a useful demonstration of where the line is drawn between protecting philosophical beliefs, and maintaining a wider respect for the law.

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For more information, please contact Zahra Gulamhusein in our Employment team on 07887 994 368, or complete the form below.

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