Jordi Casamitjana is the kind of vegan who makes distinctions between “ethical” vegans and other kinds. He avoids meat products because of their effects on the environment and on animals. His diet choices are philosophical, he argues, something like a religion.
“Some people only eat a vegan diet, but they don’t care about the environment or the animals. They only care about their health,” Casamitjana told the BBC. He, on the other hand, cares “about the animals and the environment and my health and everything. ... veganism is a belief and affects every single aspect of my life."
It’s this distinction, he says, that makes veganism a protected class, one his employer violated when it fired him.
Casamitjana said he returned to work at the League Against Cruel Sports in 2016, after working there in a less senior position from 2004 to 2007. At first, things went well. Then Casamitjana found out his company’s pension plan invested in pharmaceutical and tobacco companies that allegedly conduct tests on animals. Casamitjana believed this ran counter to the organization’s mission and to his own values. So he raised the issue with his managers.
After some back and forth, he said, employees were given the chance to switch to an ethical fund, but with lower rates of return than other ethical funds. Casamitjana said he alerted his colleagues in an email to that fact. Then, he was fired.
Casamitjana argues that was discrimination. He was fired, he says, because of his vegan beliefs. It’s not so different, he alleges, than being let go for being Muslim or Jewish. He’s brought on a law firm called Bindmans, which will raise the issue with an employment tribunal. Casamitjana’s lawyers will argue that veganism is a protected class under the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act forbids businesses from discriminating against employees on the basis of age, disability, gender, race, sex and religion.
“If we are successful, we will achieve a judgment which formally recognizes the protected status of ethical veganism and which could then be used as the basis to combat discrimination against vegans in employment, in the provision of goods and services, and in education,” Peter Daly, who represents Casamitjana, told the BBC. “This is therefore a landmark case.”
Others aren’t so sure this case is a good thing. “Rights are intended to be liberating. But if we’re all turned into rights-bearers, my rights clashing with your rights, we end up having to appeal to the courts to sort out our differences, and that can become oppressive for everybody,” Nick Spencer of the think tank Theos, which stimulates debate about religion in society, told the BBC.
For its part, the League Against Cruel Sports says Casamitjana’s firing has nothing to do with his veganism. "Mr Casamitjana was dismissed from his position because of gross misconduct. To link his dismissal with issues pertaining to veganism is factually wrong,” the organization said in a statement to the BBC. “Mr. Casamitjana is seeking to use his veganism as the reason for his dismissal. We emphatically reject this claim.”