An employment tribunal has held that the Claimant's belief in the sanctity of life, which extends to his fervent anti-fox hunting belief, constitutes a philosophical belief protected under discrimination law.

Key facts

The Claimant was employed as a gardener at a garden centre. Following his dismissal he issued a claim alleging that his dismissal had resulted from the employer's discovery that he was an animal welfare activist and therefore amounted to direct discrimination on the grounds of his philosophical belief in the sanctity of life and, in particular, his anti-fox hunting beliefs. The employer responded that the Claimant's dismissal had resulted from his failure to be profitable and that, in any event, his beliefs did not qualify as a philosophical belief under discrimination law.

The decision

The Tribunal considered the Claimant's evidence which described how his beliefs pervade his life though his veganism and involvement in various animal welfare organisations. The sincerity of his beliefs was challenged by reference to the fact that he wore clothes containing animal dye and continued to work for an organisation run by supporters of hunting and profiting from the proceeds of killing animals for food. The Tribunal, however, found that the Claimant was sincere in his beliefs and attempted to live his life in accordance with them. His beliefs were truly philosophical within the ordinary meaning of the word and fell to be protected under discrimination law.

What this means for employers

The case is a further example of circumstances in which beliefs may be protected under discrimination law and echoes the 2009 case of Nicholson v Grainger PLC in which an individual's beliefs regarding climate change were protected. The Tribunal emphasised that the decision was based specifically on the Claimant's beliefs and did not mean that everyone opposed to fox hunting necessarily holds a philosophical belief protected under discrimination law. It seems that a belief must have a broader effect on the way in which an individual leads their life. It is likely that there will be further cases which test the extent of the philosophical beliefs which may be protected.

Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Limited t/a Orchard Park [2009] ET/3105555.