Landmark legal ruling on whether vegetarians are protected under employment law

Dan Chapman, from Leathes Prior. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Dan Chapman, from Leathes Prior. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

A landmark legal ruling at a Norwich tribunal has concluded that being vegetarian does not grant people anti-discrimination rights in the workplace.

It came after a waiter/barman at the Somerleyton estate in Suffolk launched a discrimination claim against Crossley Farms Ltd, saying he had resigned from his job because of the way he was treated for being vegetarian.

Whether George Conisbee's case continued had hinged on the Norwich tribunal recognising vegetarianism as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

If it had been, it would have awarded Mr Consibee protected employment rights as a vegetarian, in a similar way to anti-discrimination workplace protection for disabled, religious, gay, bisexual, homosexual or lesbian people. But the reserved judgment of Judge Postle was the tribunal did not accept vegetarianism as a protected characteristic.

Dan Chapman, from Norwich-based solicitors Leathes Prior, represented Crossley Farms Ltd in the tribunal.

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Among his arguments were that each person might have differing reasons for being vegetarian, such as moral concern about the slaughter of animals, health or diet benefits, environmental concerns, economic benefit or personal taste.

But without a single, unifying reason among all vegetarians, there was no cogency or cohesion in that belief.

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He argued it was an opinion or viewpoint and a lifestyle choice rather than a belief of similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

And the tribunal agreed.

Judge Postle said: "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.

"The tribunal therefore concluded on balance they were not persuaded vegetarianism amounted to a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010."

In a statement which could have repercussions for future cases claiming discrimination against vegans, Mr Postle drew a distinction between vegetarianism and veganism.

He said reasons for being a vegan "appear to be largely the same", with a "clear cogency and cohesion".

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