Chalk up a win for vegan rights — at least in the United Kingdom, where a judge on Friday ruled that “ethical veganism” is a protected class akin to religion under law designed to shield people from discrimination in the workplace and beyond.
An employment tribunal made that landmark determination in a case involving a man who claimed he was fired from his job at an animal rights organization for revealing to colleagues that their pension funds were invested in companies that experiment on animals. The tribunal has yet to rule on the merits of the case, but it did on Friday take the step of deciding that the man’s ethical veganism constitutes a “philosophical and religious belief” protected by anti-discrimination law.
Jordi Casamitjana had accused his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports — a group that combats the use of animals in sports including fox hunting and animal fighting — of improperly firing him, according to documents posted by his attorney. He claimed his ethical veganism, adherents of which maintain a vegan diet and oppose the use of animals for any purpose, constituted a protected class.
His employer did not contest the latter argument. But in a statement to Sky News, the League Against Cruel Sports said it is an “inclusive employer” and that Casamitjana was fired for “gross misconduct.”
To be covered under the U.K.’s Equality Act, which also covers sexual orientation, race, gender reassignment and other categories, a person must show that their beliefs meet a set of criteria. Per the law, they must be “genuinely held; be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available; be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior; attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”
In a statement posted by his attorney, Casamitjana praised the ruling. “I am not alone,” he said. “Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans. Hopefully, from my dismissal, something positive will come by ensuring other ethical vegans are better protected in the future.”
His attorney, Peter Daly, said the judge’s decision could prove far-reaching. “The recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services,” he said in a statement.
The ruling also prompted cheers from animal rights activists. Mimi Bekhechi, PETA’s director of international programs, called it “a significant step toward a kinder future for all of us.”
“We are in complete agreement with Judge Robin Postle that vegan living is important and worthy of respect in a democratic society and that vegans’ rights must be protected under the Equality Act 2010,” Bekhechi said in an emailed statement. “Society’s moral compass is shifting toward a more compassionate way of living, and our laws must change with it. ”
In the United States, activists note that no similar case law exists there. But Judie Mancuso, founder and president of animal rights group Social Compassion in Legislation, says it offers hope to people around the world pushing for legislation to protect vegans. Her organization helped pass a law in California that mandates vegan options in hospitals and prisons. “I say good for them, and it gives us something to point to,” Mancuso said of the U.K. ruling. “When things are going in a certain direction and then we codify it, that’s where progress is made.”
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