A ruling was handed down on Friday by a U.K. employment tribunal allowing ethical vegans to be protected from discrimination by law. With this ruling, ethical veganism now has the same legal protections as religious beliefs.
Jordi Casamitjana was fired from his job with the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). LACS is an animal welfare charity with a mission to stop blood sports that endanger animals, like fox hunting and deer hunting, game-bird shooting, and animal fighting. In 2018, he disclosed to his colleagues that the organization’s pension fund investments included companies that experiment on animals. Casamitjana then lost his job, claiming it was due to his personal beliefs. LACS, however, said that Casamitjana was fired for “gross misconduct.”
Ethical vegans not only eat a plant-based diet, they refrain from doing anything that they consider animal exploitation, such as using products made from wool or those tested on animals. Casamitjana is so committed to this way of life that he doesn’t take buses for fear that they might accidentally hit a bird, or even insects. A proven commitment to his beliefs was crucial in his legal case. To be protected under the U.K.’s Equality Act, he had to pass a two-part test. First he had to establish that ethical veganism is a philosophical or religious belief for purposes of the Act; if he succeeded at that, then the legality of his dismissal would be ruled on.
Friday’s ruling was the first in that two-step process. The result: Ethical veganism is now a protected belief. The LACS issued a statement before Friday’s ruling.
However, the League Against Cruel Sports claims he was sacked for “gross misconduct”.
In a statement to Sky News, it said: “The League Against Cruel Sports is an inclusive employer and as this is a hearing to decide whether veganism should be a protected status, something which the League does not contest, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further”.
As the LACS issued a statement Thursday, so did Casamitjana. He was hopeful that some good might come of his firing if the ruling went his way.
He said: “Although the manner in which I was dismissed was intensely distressing for me, some good may come of it if I am able to establish this valuable protection for all ethical vegans.
“If we are successful in that hearing, we will then proceed to a hearing on the specifics of my dismissal”.
His lawyers noted that the ruling “will have potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services.” I’m not sure what all that entails. The beliefs of one minority group in society cannot outweigh the freedoms of the majority. Casamitjana said that the judge understood ethical veganism. By “understood,” he means empathized with.
“Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans,” he claimed. “Better protection means more vegans will be able to be open about their beliefs.”
This case sounds more like that of a whistleblower than someone being discriminated against for his personal philosophy on what warrants animal cruelty. He was already employed by an organization fighting to protect animals from abuse or death, after all. Casamitjana sounded the alarm to colleagues that their pension funds were invested in companies involved in animal testing.
The LACS responded after the ruling Friday. From the organization’s point of view, the legal question of Casamitjana’s firing will be a more important ruling than Friday’s ruling on protection.
Rhys Wyborn, an employment partner at Shakespeare Martineau, who acted for the LACS, downplayed the significance of the ruling. “Although an interesting point of law, this hearing was preparation for the real crux of the matter: why Jordi Casamitjana was dismissed,” he said…
“The league is now looking ahead to the substantive hearing in this case and to addressing the reason for Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal, which it maintains was due to his misconduct and not the belief he holds.”
If the court rules that Casamitjana was illegally fired for his beliefs, not for the action he took, it may open a can of worms for other employers. Any employee could be emboldened to claim discrimination upon termination when the reason is to push an agenda normalizing behavior of a minority of the population. This puts ethical veganism in the same category of workplace protections as age, race, religion, and sexual orientation.