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Employment Law Case Update: Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports

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Jordi Casamitjana worked for League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) as a zoologist, specialising in animal behaviour. LACS states that it’s one of the most vegan-friendly employers. When it came to Mr Casamitjana’s attention that pension funds were invested in pharmaceutical and tobacco companies which used animal testing; he brought this to the attention of his managers.

He felt nothing was done about this and when he proceeded to tell other employees, he was disciplined and then dismissed. Mr Casamitjana claims he was dismissed unfairly due to his strong ethical vegan beliefs. Ethical vegans try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation, such as wearing or buying clothes made from animals, playing instruments made from animals, or purchasing products from companies who test their products on animals.

LACS, who played a big role in securing the fox-hunting ban, claims Casamitjana’s dismissal was for gross misconduct after failing to follow instructions from management, and that to link his dismissal to his vegan beliefs is inaccurate.

LACS explained that staff members were automatically enrolled into an ethical pension fund, but in 2015 the Financial Conduct Authority changed its regulations, making the fund ineligible for automatic enrolment. However LACS stated that employees have always had the opportunity to join any pension scheme they wish.  A hearing has been scheduled for March, where the Employment Tribunal will decide whether ethical veganism is a “philosophical belief” which should be protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Religion/belief is one of the nine protected characteristics contained within the Equality Act. Ethical veganism will need to meet certain criteria to fall within the definition of a philosophical belief. It must meet a series of tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with fundamental rights of others. Interestingly, the belief doesn’t need to be shared by others for it to be protected. Figures from the Vegan Society show there are currently around 600,000 vegans in Britain, compared to 150,000 in 2014.

Mr Casamitjana clarified that “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. The hearing in March is not, first and foremost, about my dismissal, but is about the status of ethical veganism as a protected philosophical belief. If we are successful in that hearing, we will then proceed to a hearing on the specifics of my dismissal”.

Whilst the case has not yet been heard by a tribunal it is a useful reminder that employers will need to be mindful of employees who hold beliefs such as ethical veganism when taking disciplinary action, to ensure that they do not fall foul of discrimination legislation.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.