Mr McClung is one of many football fanatics who understand the passion, commitment and financial expense involved in supporting their favourite football team. In his opinion, his support of Rangers Football Club is a way of life: it motivates him to work harder, he savours the memories it creates between him and his family, and his attendance at games is as important to him as attendance at mass is for religious people. Despite all of this, the Employment Tribunal (ET) recently gave a red card to Mr McClung’s argument that supporting Rangers amounts to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act.

The Grainger test

In considering Mr McClung’s argument, the ET applied the five-pronged test set out in Grainger.

  1. The belief must be genuinely held

The ET had accepted that Mr McClung’s belief in supporting Rangers Football Club was genuinely held. He had been a lifelong fan, spent the majority of his income on tickets for games, was a member of Rangers’ charitable organisation and even received birthday cards from the club every year.

  1. It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available

On the second strand of the test, the ET determined that, in supporting Rangers Football Club, he had an interest in its success – but that did not amount to belief (i.e. “an acceptance of something that exists or is true, especially without proof”). The judge also likened Mr McClung’s belief to support of a political party, which was previously rejected as worthy of protection under the Equality Act.

  1. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour

In January 2020, veganism gained protection as a philosophical belief. In turn, in considering the third limb of Grainger, the ET contemplated an undoubtedly uncommon comparison: vegans versus football fans. The judge determined that, unlike veganism, Mr McClung’s belief did not centre on a fundamental question which has wider importance for humanity as a whole. The existence of 8 million Rangers fans worldwide was not sufficient to meet this all-important requirement. Further, while the ET had previously accepted that the majority of vegans lived their life in the relevant ways for largely the same reason (i.e. because of a desire to protect and prevent the exploitation of animal life), Mr McClung failed to identify a single cohesive reason for being a Rangers fan.

  1. Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance

In terms of the fourth limb, the ET had no doubt that supporting Rangers Football Club was a way of life to Mr McClung. However, it reiterated that such opinion was personal to him and had no wider impact or consequences on humanity as a whole. Secondly, while Mr McClung had attempted to argue that viewpoints such as unionism and loyalty to the monarchy were common among supporters and constituted reasons for supporting the team, the ET refused to accept allRangers fans shared or were required to share such views in order to be considered fans.

  1. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Finally, the ET accepted that Mr McClung’s belief in supporting Rangers Football Club was certainly worthy of respect. However, it denied that it garnered the same respect, academic commentary and research as, for example, veganism.

Advice to employers

While the ET refused to accept supporting a football club constitutes a philosophical belief, employers should continue to ensure they provide equivalent treatment, support and opportunities to all, notwithstanding any personal interests and opinions.