Mr Conisbee (“the Claimant”) is a vegetarian and was employed by Crossley Farms Limited (“the Respondent”) as a Waiter/Barman at the Fritton Arms Hotel in Suffolk. The Claimant was employed from April 2018 until he resigned with immediate effect on 30th August 2018.
The reason for the Claimant’s resignation was unclear. The Claimant stated he resigned because he was discriminated against on the basis of his beliefs as a vegetarian. The Respondent denied the allegations, stating that the true reason for the Claimant’s resignation was because he got a dressing down in front of customers on 30th August 2018 because he attended work in an un-ironed shirt.
It was agreed between the parties that the Claimant was a vegetarian and had a genuine belief in vegetarianism. The issue in this case was whether vegetarianism amounted to a philosophical belief, which if it did, would entitle the Claimant to plead discrimination on the basis that vegetarianism, i.e. a philosophical belief is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
The Claimant submitted that many vegetarians are genuine in their belief, namely that it is wrong and immoral to eat animals or subject them to the cruelty and perils of farming, a view shared by a significant and increasing number of people across the world.
The Respondent in contrast submitted that vegetarianism cannot be a philosophical belief as it is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as the practice of not eating meat or fish, and therefore vegetarianism is nothing more than a lifestyle choice. However the Respondent accepted that veganism, namely the practice of abstaining from the consumption and use of animal products could be viewed as a philosophical belief.
The Employment Tribunal dismissed the claim, stating that although vegetarianism amounted to an opinion and viewpoint, it was simply not enough to have an opinion based on some real or perceived logic. In other words, the opinion or viewpoint must have a status or cogency similar to religious beliefs.
However, the Employment Judge did open the floodgates to future claims when the Judge stated that there was clear cogency and cohesion in vegan beliefs. As such, we will have to wait and see whether veganism is pleaded as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 in a future case, which in itself could prove a fascinating case.
It is worth reminding ourselves that this case was held in the Employment Tribunal and is therefore not binding on future claims. However it does provide an insight into the types of claims employers could bring in the future, especially given the growing diversity of personal beliefs and lifestyle choices, although the prospects of any future case would be heavily fact sensitive.