LONDON — A British court ruled Friday that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief that should be protected against workplace discrimination, in a landmark decision sought by a vegan who claimed he had been unfairly dismissed from his job because of it.
The complainant, Jordi Casamitjana, argued that his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, fired him after he raised concerns about his pension fund investing in companies involved in animal testing.
In addition to not eating animal products, ethical vegans reject all forms of animal exploitation, and usually refuse to wear wool or leather, or to use products tested on animals.
On Friday at an employment tribunal in Norwich, in eastern England, Judge Robin Postle ruled that ethical veganism qualifies under Britain’s Equality Act as a philosophical belief and that those embracing it are entitled to similar protection as those who hold religious beliefs.
Under the Equality Act, which was passed in 2010, individuals practicing a religion or holding other belief systems are protected from discrimination in the workplace, if those beliefs are compatible with human dignity and don’t conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Postle’s ruling didn’t determine whether Casamitjana was dismissed because of his veganism. The tribunal is expected to address that issue in a hearing scheduled for late February.
The League Against Cruel Sports is an animal welfare charity that opposes hunting, fighting and bird shooting. Casamitjana, 55, is a zoologist specializing in animal behavior who worked as an investigator for the league. He documented cases of violations of the Hunting Act, which in 2004 banned hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales.
A lawyer representing the league, Rhys Wyborn, called the ruling “an interesting point of law” but said the league maintained that Casamitjana was dismissed “due to his misconduct and not to the belief he holds.”
Casamitjana’s lawyer, Peter Daly, said Friday that the ruling could lead to more employee protection in the workplace or in education.
Other experts went further. “Following this decision, employers need to be alert to the risk of discriminating against people who hold beliefs that traditionally might not have been considered to be protected under employment law,” said Hayley Trovato, a legal expert at OGR Stock Denton Solicitors. Besides veganism, Trovato added, such beliefs could include pacifism.
A growing number of people have become vegetarian or vegan in recent years, citing dietary, environmental and ethical reasons. Those citing ethical reasons argue that humans shouldn’t exploit or eat animals but rather protect them.
Casamitjana worked for the league from 2004 to 2007 and later became a freelance consultant for various animal welfare organizations. He worked again for the league as its head of policy and research from 2016 until his dismissal in 2018.
Tribunal documents show that as Casamitjana sought to stop his pension contributions, he was told that the league was reviewing the pension provider and the issue. He argued that he was fired after he informed his colleagues about his concerns.
“Ethical veganism dictates all of my choices from the products and services that I consume, my interactions with the world, the way that I use my time and my employment,” he said in a statement given to the tribunal.
“Hopefully, from my dismissal, something positive will come by ensuring other ethical vegans are better protected in the future,” he said in a statement after the ruling was made public.