The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has considered whether an employee’s belief in the right to own the intellectual property of her own creative work amounted to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd UKEAT/0040/17

Facts

The employee, Ms Gray, was recruited as a market support assistant to Mulberry. She was provided with a contract of employment and an agreement protecting the company’s intellectual property rights in the designs of its luxury handbags. The agreement provided for the assignment of the copyright and other proprietary rights to Mulberry in respect of all works and designs she created in the course of her employment.

Ms Gray refused to sign the agreement on the basis that it could interfere with her own work as a writer and film-maker. The agreement was amended to make it clear that the assignment of the intellectual property only applied to work relating to Mulberry’s business, but Ms Gray still refused to sign it. She was eventually dismissed and brought a claim for direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of belief. Her stated belief was ‘the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output’. Ms Gray’s claim was rejected on the basis that her asserted belief was not sufficiently cohesive to form any cogent philosophical belief system. Her dismissal was, in any event, due to her refusal to sign the intellectual property agreement rather than because of her philosophical belief. The tribunal was satisfied that there was no direct or indirect discrimination.

EAT decision

The EAT dismissed the employee’s appeal. It agreed with the tribunal’s conclusion that her belief did not have the necessary level of cogency or cohesion to amount to a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. In addition, there was no suggestion at the time that her refusal to sign the agreement was motivated by a philosophical belief. Her objections could be described as commercial in nature, designed to protect her own private interests in selling her work. It was not an expression of her belief.

Consequences

There are relatively few cases dealing with the question of what is a ‘philosophical belief’ for the purposes of protection under the Equality Act 2010. This is a useful decision to illustrate the requirements for such a belief to be protected. It also highlights the difficulty faced by a claimant who failed to make any mention of her belief during conversations with her employer, in persuading a tribunal that her treatment was related to that belief.