English Tribunal: Vegans Protected Against Discrimination

By contrast, American courts have specifically rejected such rights.

An employment tribunal in England has ruled that “ethical veganism” is a protected class under the Equality Act of 2010, which safeguards people from discrimination for their deeply held and religious views. The case involved the alleged wrongful termination of a man who claims he was fired after complaining that his company’s pension fund invested in companies that test on animals.

The judge found, “that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief protected under the Equality Act 2010. For a belief to be protected, 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 the fundamental rights of others.” Although the tribunal has not yet ruled whether he was fired for those beliefs, which would be illegal, a lawyer for the Vegan Society called it “a fantastic day for animals” and those who fight to protect them.

No U.S. court has made a similar ruling. In fact, a California Court ruled to the contrary. In 2002, the Court of Appeal upheld the termination of a man who refused to get a mumps vaccine, a requirement for the job, because it was grown in chicken embryos.* The plaintiff argued that doing so would conflict with his ethical veganism. He further argued that his views were “sincere and meaningful beliefs which occupy a place in [plaintiff’s] life parallel to that” of a “religious creed” protected under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The state defines “religious creed” as “any traditionally recognized religion as well as beliefs, observations, or practices which an individual sincerely holds and which occupy in his or her life a place of importance parallel to that of traditionally recognized religions.” Moreover, Federal law holds that “Purely ‘moral and ethical beliefs’ can be religious ‘so long as they are held with the strength of religious convictions.'” The Court was unmoved.

Even though it accepted plaintiff’s firm belief, “that all living beings must be valued equally and that it is immoral and unethical for humans to kill and exploit animals even for food, clothing and the testing of product safety for humans,” it declined to find it protected because of a lack of “spiritual or otherworldly component to plaintiff’s beliefs.” As such, the Court dismissed his case and the Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal, ruling that veganism is not a “religious creed” within the meaning of the Act.

Given the immense changes in society over the last two decades since that case was decided, perhaps it is time to revisit that ruling.

* The importance of vaccines isn’t central to the discussion as the court could have found that “ethical veganism” was a protected class, but overruled by an overriding state interest in preventing disease. Instead of the narrow focus, imagine a similar factual scenario to the English case; someone was fired in the U.S. for criticizing the fact that his employer’s pension fund invested in companies that test on animals. That is the heart of the discussion and certainly the more interesting one.


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