Vegetarianism and beliefs about transgenderism not protected
Employment tribunals have ruled that a belief in vegetarianism and various beliefs about transgenderism are not protected under the Equality Act 2010. The employees’ claims that their employers had discriminated against them due to those beliefs therefore failed.
When is a belief protected?
The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination due to religion or philosophical belief (including a lack of belief). In Grainger PLC v Nicholson, the Employment Appeal Tribunal gave guidance on when a philosophical belief will be protected. To be protected, the belief must:
- Be genuinely held
- Be a belief and not just an opinion or point of view
- Be a belief about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
- Have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.
The employment tribunal considered whether these tests were met in two recent cases, one involving a belief in vegetarianism and the other involving various beliefs about transgenderism.
In Conisbee v Crossley Farms, the employment tribunal accepted that Mr Conisbee had a genuine belief in vegetarianism and that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food. This belief was worthy of respect in a democratic society. However, it ruled his beliefs were not protected by the Equality Act as:
- Vegetarianism cannot be described as relating to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. It is not a belief about human life and behaviour, it is a lifestyle choice
- His beliefs did not meet the necessary level of cogency and cohesion as the reasons for being a vegetarian vary greatly. These range from lifestyle, health, diet and personal taste to concerns about the way animals are reared for food
- It did not have a similar status or cogency to religious beliefs.
In Mackereth v The Department for Work and Pensions, Dr Mackereth was employed by the Department for Work and Pensions as a Health and Disabilities Assessor assessing individuals in connection with benefits claims.
He believes that God created every person as either male or female, that a person cannot change their gender and attempting to do so is a sin. He does not believe that impersonating the opposite sex might benefit an individual’s welfare, or that society should accommodate or encourage anyone to impersonate the opposite sex. He also believes it would be irresponsible for a health professional to accommodate or encourage a patient’s impersonation of the opposite sex.
As a result of his beliefs, he refused to refer to transgender patients by their chosen pronoun and to address them by their preferred title.
The employment tribunal ruled that although Dr Mackereth’s Christianity was protected, his particular beliefs were not. They were incompatible with human dignity and conflicted with the fundamental rights of transgender people.
What are the implications of this case?
Establishing that a philosophical belief is protected under the Equality Act is not a simple matter. It can be difficult to satisfy all of the elements of the test set out in the Grainger case, as these cases demonstrate. Although the employment tribunal ruled vegetarianism was not protected, it commented that veganism might be. It considered the reasons for being a vegan are largely the same for all vegans, meaning there is a clear cogency and cohesion to vegan belief. This contrasts with vegetarianism, where the reasons for being vegetarian vary greatly. It is not surprising that the tribunal considered Dr Mackereth’s beliefs to be incompatible with human dignity and to conflict with the rights of transgender people. However, we understand that he intends to appeal the decision.
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