Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd (Employment Appeal Tribunal)

An individual did not genuinely believe in the sanctity of copyright so it could not amount to a protected philosophical belief under UK discrimination legislation. Her claim of indirect discrimination on the grounds of such belief therefore failed.

The employee refused to sign her employment contract because it contained a standard clause which required her to assign any intellectual property created during the course of her employment to her employer, a well-known fashion house. She contended that this provision would interfere with her personal creative output as a writer and film-maker. Attempts to mutually agree on amended wording failed, the employee was dismissed and she bought claims for direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of an apparently philosophical belief; namely the 'human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights' of creative works and outputs.

Applying the well-established criteria for a protected 'philosophical belief' under the UK's Equality Act 2010, the Employment Tribunal agreed that this was a belief (not merely an opinion) that was genuinely held and which concerned a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour worthy of respect in a democratic society. However, it did not accept that – as required – the employee held her belief as part of a cogent or cohesive belief pattern that made it a 'philosophical touchstone' in her life. The EAT agreed on appeal, holding that her position was aimed more at protecting the commercial fruits and benefits of her creative activities, rather than as part of any deep-rooted ideal.

This case reiterates that a belief does not have to be religious in order to benefit from protection against discrimination in the UK. It also provides a helpful explanation of the definition of a philosophical belief, suggesting that purported manifestations which are entwined with private, commercial interests may not qualify for protection. Regardless, employers would be well advised to treat all claimed beliefs with care and to not apply a blanket approach.