Julie Dunane CG Professional

Vegetarianism – Is It a Protected Characteristic?

Julie Duane, Solicitor Advocate at CG Professional.

In the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited, the Claimant was pursuing a claim of discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief on the premise that their relevant belief was vegetarianism.  This article explores whether vegetarianism can be deemed a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

The Facts

The Claimant was a vegetarian and employed as a waiter/barman for the Respondent from April 2018 until 30 August 2019.  He subsequently resigned from his employment on the grounds that he had been discriminated against due to his religion/belief. The Claimant referred to incidents whereby his colleagues gave him snacks and then later informed him it contained meat/meat traces. Whilst the Respondent accepted the Claimant had a genuine belief in vegetarianism, they took the view that this was merely an opinion and viewpoint and therefore not sufficient to amount to a belief.

As part of the Claimant’s submissions, they claimed that vegetarianism satisfied the definition of a philosophical belief under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010, on the basis that:

  1. Many vegetarians including the Claimant were genuine in their belief and there is no argument to suggest that the belief system behind vegetarianism is made up of fanciful;
  2. No one can sensibly deny that many vegetarians, the Claimant included, is based on a genuine belief that it is wrong and immoral to eat animals and subject them and the environment to cruelty and perils of farming and slaughter;
  3. Vegetarianism accounts for a huge portion of the world’s population, which in 2010 was approximately 21.8%;
  4. Vegetarianism is a clear and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; and
  5. No one can sensibly argue that vegetarianism is incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with other fundamental rights.”

For the reasons outlined above, the Claimant contended that vegetarianism constituted a protected characteristic. 

Conversely, the Respondent argued that in order to satisfy the definition of a philosophical belief, the Claimant must show:

  1. the belief must be genuinely held;
  2. it must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint;
  3. the belief is a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  4. it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness and cohesive importance; and
  5. it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

The Respondent averred that the Claimant failed to satisfy these criteria.

The decision

The ET held that whilst the Claimant was a vegetarian, with a genuine belief in its practice and animal welfare, vegetarianism in itself is not capable of amounting to philosophical belief in accordance of the Equality Act 2010.  The Tribunal held:

The belief must have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.  Clearly, having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.”

It should, however, be noted that later this month a different Tribunal will determine whether ethical veganism is capable of being a protected characteristic i.e. a philosophical belief.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this article or would like to discuss another matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the CG Team who will be more than happy to assist.