Jordi Casamitjana, the vegan responsible for securing the legal protection of many vegans, summarises what effect had his landmark legal victory in the last three years.
I could see the row of cameras outside.
I had just dictated my statement to Megan, the press office of the legal firm representing me (Slater and Gordon) had assigned me for the case. We did not expect to have a verdict on the same day of the pre-hearing, so I had to improvise the statement right there. I did not want to rush it. I wanted the press to have time to send someone outside.
Eventually, I purposely walked out leading the rest of the team (my solicitor Peter Daly, my barrister Chris Milsom, and my two witnesses, Dr Jeanette Rowley, and Professor Jeff McMahan) and some of my vegan friends who came to support me. When I arrived at the press line, one TV reporter asked me a question, and everything else spiralled out from there. Three months later — the last time I checked — 1,467 articles from media outlets and websites from more than 60 different countries had reported about my legal victory. For the first time in history, ethical veganism had become a protected characteristic (what in the US is called a “protected class”) in any jurisdiction in the world, putting this philosophy at the same level as Christianity, feminism, Islam, Pacifism, or Buddhism.
It was a big deal. On 3rd January 2020, in a pre-hearing at an Employment Tribunal in Norwich, England, that was part of the litigation I initiated after having been fired for being a vegan from an animal welfare organisation I was working in, Judge Robin Poste ruled that ethical veganism was a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, and therefore my discrimination litigation could continue.
Three years later, this protection is still in place, as nobody appealed that judgement, and everyone involved in this sort of thing (the legal profession, Human Resources companies, employers’ associations, the unions, and the government) accepted the judge’s conclusion. So, in Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) where the Equality Act 2010 applies, ethical vegans have enjoyed extra legal protection for three years now.
I thought it would be a good idea to summarise what effect this protection has had so far.
What Do I Mean By “Protected”?
When I say ethical veganism is now protected in Great Britain because of my legal victory, I mean that it has now been officially recognised by a judge as a protected characteristic (or protected class) under the Equality Act 2010. This law establishes which characteristics are protected, which means that it is unlawful to discriminate, harass, or victimise someone because of possessing such characteristics. In particular, it lists nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sex. So, for instance, if someone is being discriminated against for being a Muslim, someone has been harassed for being trans, or someone is being victimised for being blind, then a civil offence has been committed, and the victims could take legal action against the person or institution that committed it (and if they have enough evidence to prove their case they would expect the judge may order punitive and/or compensatory remedies against the offender).
However, discriminating, harassing or victimising someone because of a protected characteristic does not necessarily mean that a crime has been committed — and therefore you can call the police and expect the state would prosecute the offender for you — as the Equality Act 2010 (which, by the way, does not apply to Northern Ireland, and therefore it applies only to Great Britain, not the entirety of the UK) is part of civil law, not criminal law. Other criminal laws deal with harassment, and it may be that protected characteristics are the reasons some crimes have been committed, but these are separate things from what the Equality Act 2010 deals with. This civil law gives citizens the power to protect their equality rights with litigation against someone or some institution who has breached them within employment, but also in the provision of services, both public (such as the prison service, public hospitals, or public schools) and private (such as hotels, restaurants, or landlords).
The interesting bit is that the characteristic “religion or belief” of this law can be separated into recognised religions as such (and in that case the protection applies automatically) and non-religious philosophical beliefs (such as feminism, pacifism, teetotalism, socialism, environmentalism, etc.), which, for the protection to be applied, a judge needs to first examine the belief to check if it qualifies following what is called the Grainger’s test. Every time a new belief is claimed as being one of the protected philosophical beliefs the Equality Act 2010 refers to, an employment judge must rule that is the case, after having examined the claim in a pre-hearing. Once the judge confirms it (which not always happens, as several beliefs have already been rejected), if such decision is not overruled by another judge above from the Employment Appeals Tribunal, then such belief is accepted as protected and from now on be treated as the religious beliefs are treated as far as automatic protection is concerned. I was the first person who claimed “ethical veganism” as a protected belief, and now that the judge confirmed it and no other judges challenged this, such protection is now officially recognised.
Note that I use the term “ethical veganism”, not just veganism. This is defined as someone who follows the official definition of veganism of the Vegan Society to the full, not only for diet (like the so-called dietary vegans). This means someone who seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. In his written judgement, Judge Postle made it clear that anyone who follows ethical veganism (so who follows to the full the definition of the Vegan Society) would be covered by this protection, not just me. The philosophical belief I claimed is not a personal one, but one that has been clearly defined for a long time and other people have shared. How the belief is manifested may vary from person to person — and the judge acknowledged this — but other people who may be less strict than I am about the things I avoid and how I avoid them will be still protected if they follow the same definition I follow. However, those who do not follow the definition, such as someone who only eats the food vegans eat but still uses leather, wool, cosmetics tested on animals, visits zoos for leisure, or directly participates in known forms of animal exploitation, will not be covered with the ruling — although they could eventually be covered by other rulings if their take their belief to a tribunal to test it).
The Immediate Outcome of Judge Postle’s Ruling
The first effect of ruling ethical veganism as a protected characteristic is that my litigation against the animal welfare organisation that dismissed me could continue, so that was good news for me. My case had started more than two years before when I discovered the pension fund I had been auto-enrolled to was investing in pharmaceutical companies that test on animals. After months of complaining about it to my bosses, I was eventually dismissed, so I took my former employer to the Employment Tribunal. Now that Judge Postle had confirmed the philosophical belief I claimed I was dismissed for was indeed protected, my discrimination case could continue in February 2020, when a ten-day full merit hearing for this case was scheduled in another employment tribunal in Watford, London. Thanks to the excellent work of my legal team, after the fifth day of the ten-days trial, the proceedings ended with an out-of-court settlement in my favour. My former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, compensated me for my dismissal, and on 2nd March 2022, when we settled the case, they produced the following statement:
“As has been the subject of extensive media coverage, between 2018 and 2020 we were involved in Employment Tribunal litigation brought by our former employee Jordi Casamitjana. We are happy to make clear that Mr Casamitjana was a very valued employee of the League during the two periods he worked with us, showing a great deal of professionalism, expertise and commitment to the protection of animals.
The only reason for the dismissal of Mr Casamitjana in 2018 was his communications to his colleagues in relation to our pension arrangements. Having revisited the issue we now accept that Mr Casamitjana did nothing wrong with such communications, which were motivated by his belief in ethical veganism. We are grateful to Mr Casamitjana for having raised the issue of pensions to us, which allowed us to change our default pension fund to an ethical one closer to our values.”
That was the first time that the protection of ethical vegans in Great Britain had led to successful litigation in favour of an ethical vegan, proving that the protection was real.
Experts’ Advice All Around
Another early effect of my case was that very soon after the ruling, the Vegan Society produced a document called “Supporting veganism in the workplace: A guide for employers”, summarising the new “status quo” and helping employers to come to terms with it. It was made public just a week after the ruling, and it was sent to many companies and HR firms, which used it to assess how vegans had been treated in their companies and change their practices if they detected any indirect discrimination. In those early days, I was monitoring the internet for mentions of my case, and many websites mentioning I found were from HR companies advising their clients.
For instance, Neathouse produced an article titled “Casamitjana V League Against Cruel Sports” in which they wrote, “employers need to be aware of issues surrounding ethical veganism and treat ethical veganism as sincerely as they would treat religious beliefs or issues of race or disability.” Mint Human Resources published an article titled “Can you sack a vegan?” in which they wrote, “this does have implications for anyone who employs a vegan. As with religious groups, vegans are now protected under the law from discrimination because of their beliefs. That means avoiding bullying them for their ethical system which might include jokes or other potentially hurtful comments directed at them.” New Dawn Resources published an article titled “Are you looking after your vegans at work?” where they wrote, “the Employment Tribunals have drawn a distinction between ethical veganism and vegetarianism. In Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), the Employment Tribunal held that ethical veganism is protected under the Equality Act because people choose ethical veganism for cohesive and serious reasons relating to animal welfare and environment. By contrast, in Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd, the Employment Tribunal held that vegetarianism is not protected under the Equality Act because people choose vegetarianism for a variety of different reasons such as lifestyle, health, diet, animal welfare and/or personal taste. The message from the Employment Tribunals is that the unity of reasoning behind ethical veganism is what lifts it into a philosophical belief.”
Many legal firms and legal commentators also published articles about my case, and as far as I know none expressed disagreement with the judgement or advised that it should be ignored because they thought it would be reverted. For instance, Menziers Law published an article titled “Case update (1): Discrimination – Are Ethical Vegans Protected?” where they wrote, “we would recommend employers to take steps to consider whether their workplace is inclusive for vegans. For example, whether the products and services they provide are suitable for ethical vegans, such as vegan-friendly food options in the cafeteria. Also, do ethical vegans have opportunity to object (now with protection) to, for example, handling non-vegan goods.” Sejal Pate from Lawson-West Solicitors published an article titled “Ethical Veganism” where she wrote, “the acknowledgement of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have significant effects on employment and the workplace as employers will need to think about the products they provide in the workplace, e.g. vegan-friendly food, to uniform and items avoiding wool or leather. But what must be remembered is that this was a first instance decision, and therefore does not have a binding effect on other tribunals. As this does not need to be followed, each case will remain dependent on its own facts moving forwards. However, by protecting ethical veganism this could act as catalyst for similar types of claims and arguments for other beliefs that satisfy the tests under the Equality Act 2010.”
Had my case been appealed and the protection confirmed at the Employment Appeals Tribunal, that decision would have been legally binding. However, as there was no appeal, there is the possibility that another employment judge on another case has a different view. But after three years, that has not happened, and, according to my solicitor, it is rare that an employment judge would rule against the ruling of another employment judge on issues of whether a belief is protected under the Equality Act 2010, let alone a ruling made with the testimony of several expert witnesses, 1,239 pages of evidence, and the strong wording of the judge, who wrote in his written judgement the following: “I am therefore satisfied and find it easy to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence before me that ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.”
Other Legal Cases
There have been other legal cases after mine that use it to foster protection for other ethical vegans, both in the UK (where my case has direct jurisprudence), and in other countries (where it was used to inspire judges during different court cases). The first one I learn about happened in Italy.
Four months after Judge Postle’s ruling, a judge in the Italian city of Bologna ruled in favour of an vegan teacher who took her local municipality to court for failing to provide vegan options to her in her school’s canteen. Since 2016, the Italian Ministry of Education has issued guidance about meals to all schools, guaranteeing that all vegan students would have vegan food without the need to provide a medical certificate. However, this did not cover teachers. Since then, vegan and animal protection organizations such as Lega Anti Vivisezione (LAV) have been campaigning to change this. For two years, a Bolognese primary school teacher tried in vain to get vegan food at her school, so she filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education of Italy and the USR Emilia-Romagna (the Regional Schools Office). A prominent lawyer, Franco Focareta, the Chamber of Labour and the Union CGIL, supported her litigation.
On 9th April 2020, the Judge of the Court of Bologna, Filippo Palladino, ruled in the teacher’s favour and ordered the municipality to pay her 800 Euros of compensation plus litigation costs. It seems that my case a few months earlier had been used to support the teacher’s case, as the Italian press reported it — even showing pictures of me. In an interview conducted by LAV, the Italian vegan teacher directly mentioned my case: “It refers to the only precedent I am aware of, a ruling issued by the UK last year to protect the rights of a vegan employee. So maybe this is the second of its kind in the world.”
The clearest direct case in the UK that I am aware of which benefited from my legal victory happened in Scotland in 2022. Kady Reilly, a vegan worker at the fast-food sandwich chain Subway, won £13,000 in compensation at an employment tribunal after her line manager Himanshu Lahar waved meat in her face and served non-vegan cheese to vegan customers. It was reported that Miss Reilly is an ethical vegan who brings up her children as vegans and takes part in non-violent vegan activism. In July 2022, the tribunal found she had been fired in October 2020 for whistleblowing and that her boss’ comments went against the Equality Act 2010 as her veganism constitutes a philosophical belief.
Employment Judge Claire McManus concluded: “We were satisfied on the basis of [her] evidence that her belief in veganism perpetrates her life and how she lives her life…[She] showed that her practice of veganism is a belief intrinsic to her sense of identity…We were satisfied that for [Miss Reilly], veganism is a philosophical belief within the meaning of section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 and is a protected characteristic for [her].” The legal protection of ethical vegans works, and each new case strengthens it, as it reinforces its precedent power.
There were other cases which helped to determine what type of veganism is protected and which is not. I am sure my case has empowered vegans to be more explicit in manifesting this philosophy at work, but some may have wrongly assumed that the protection entitled them to go away with things other people with other beliefs would not be able to. For instance, breaking the law. My case only protects ethical vegans as those who follow the definition of veganism of the Vegan Society, but if you add new things to the definition (effectively creating something else) then the protection may no longer stand. For instance, if you add to the definition the entitlement to break the law with direct action, then you may lose the protection. This is precisely what happened in 2022. In the case of Miles v The Royal Veterinary College, an employment tribunal ruled that a veterinary nurse’s vegan beliefs did not qualify for protection under the Equality Act principally because she believed she had a moral obligation to break the law to relieve animal suffering (which this is something not included, explicitly or implicitly, in the definition of veganism of the Vegan Society). Ms Free Miles was arrested as part of a police investigation into burglaries and thefts at farms and private residences and the college where she was studying dismissed her because it believed that some of her conduct amounted to gross misconduct.
A similar situation could occur if a vegan claims that being vegan automatically implies being against vaccines. I have written an article arguing that it does not.
There may have been many other cases that I have not heard of, as most employment litigation never makes it to the papers. I know of at least one ongoing litigation where my case may be used as I was consulted by the claimant and supporting organisations. This one is in Ontario, Canada, and it involves Adam Knauff, a vegan firefighter who in 2019 filed a human rights complaint over the food served to him while battling B.C. wildfires. I recently contacted the Canadian animal protection organisation Animal Justice, which told me the case is still languishing — delay possibly caused by the pandemic.
Also, on 16th May 2022, the Vegan Association of Turkey (Vegan Derneği Türkiye), after having talked to me and learnt about my case, sued the Council of Higher Education Board of the country (Yükseköğretim Kurulu – YÖK) for ignoring vegan students’ rights to healthy nutrition. I believe the case is still ongoing.
Prosecutions are very expensive and stressful — believe me, mine took over two years and I almost could not pay for it even after crowdfunding — so for a discriminated vegan to take an employer to the employment tribunal is a big hassle many want to avoid. Therefore, the real success of any legislation comes from its deterrent effect. I am convinced that many vegans using my case when talking to their employers have achieved what they wanted without the need to involve the courts.
On occasion, they would post their experience on social media. For instance, someone posted this about one month after the ruling: “My partner & I work in an office for a bank. They supply the office with cow’s milk for tea, coffee, cereal etc for 500 people. They must buy in and go through 30 big bottles a day at least! We’ve asked if they could also supply plant-based milk for the vegans and lactose intolerant before, but they’ve said they supply the basics and anything else is up to us. We take in our own soya milk, but it always gets thrown away when it’s still 3/4 full! So, we looked into it and that’s actually indirect discrimination as now veganism is protected by law as an ethical belief. The Vegan Society had a really handy guide on their website of what to say to our employer. We emailed them once more, basically saying they were discriminating against us, and low and behold we, a few days later, have soya and oat milk in the fridge!!”
Another example is this post I found on social media in February 2020: “After 2 years of fighting for vegan options, I received this email from my son’s primary school. Thank you Jordi Casamitjana, wherever you are!”. The image after this text was a screenshot of a text message saying, “Please see below a vegan menu that our chef has put together for **** for next term…”, followed by a vegan menu including dishes such as vegetable Bolognese, roast of the day, and vegetable tikka curry.
Occasionally, some vegans contacted me asking me for help to deal with their discrimination. In January of 2021, I received this message from Fiji Willets, asking for my advice: “I’m an 18-year-old vegan currently studying a level 3 BTEC course (Business and Technology Education Council). It is a course in Bristol described as being for ‘animal lovers.’ I am now in my second year. I have to study farming, a topic which I was not told about prior to enrolling in the course. As part of this sector, we have to learn about which animal breeds are suitable for the best meat. I also have to attend to a farm and help the farmer in his work with the animals. These tasks contradict my vegan beliefs.”
Fiji told me everything she had done so far to address this issue, and I suggested she should contact a lawyer. She did so, and three months later I read this headline in the Mirror newspaper: “Vegan teen wins right to skip college farming module with slaughterhouse trip.” In the end, she did not need to go to court to win this. After the right pressure, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College finally offered her an alternative unit to take. I asked Fiji what the effect of my legal case had in her decision to complain to the school, and she replied the following: “It was because of your case that I knew vegans were protected by law. I had seen numerous articles discussing it and what success it was to have won. Thanks to the Vegan Society, I was able to understand these laws in great detail. I knew that I was not alone and did actually stand a chance.”
I am sure that if the lockdowns due to COVID-19 had not happened right after I ended my litigation, I would have been able to compile more examples, as the fact people stopped working or started working from home may have reduced the cases of discrimination against vegans in the workplace.
Other Positive Effects
I identified other effects my legal case had in the last three years. For instance, Dr Jeanette Rowley of the Vegan Society (who founded the International Vegan Rights Alliance) wrote to me the following in March 2020: “Did you know that on the basis of your case the fire service is issuing vegan PPE to vegan firefighters automatically? I used to have to force the point about the protection of vegans under the EA 2010, which always got good results, but I am finding it easier these days. You’ve really made a difference.”
The Times also reported that, after my case, the Scottish freemasons amended their centuries-old traditions to allow vegans to become masons. Masons have traditionally worn lambskin aprons when taking part in rituals, but a spokesman for The Grand Lodge of Scotland said, “Many lodges now use vinyl [aprons]… please remember that it [the lambskin apron] is symbolic and does not need to be real.”
There were also changes in the UK Army with the creation of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Vegan and Vegetarian Network (MOD Veg Network) in November 2021 by a group of passionate personnel seeking to improve the experiences of vegans and vegetarians in the army. They got in contact with me, and its Official Ministry Of Defence Vegan And Vegetarian Network Annual Plan 2022-23 mentions my case.
Interestingly, the world of Data was also affected: Steve & Bolton LLP wrote an article titled “Ethical veganism data as special category personal data” in which they wrote, “under the GDPR ‘philosophical beliefs’ is one of the ‘special categories of personal data’ which need more protection due to their sensitivity. Businesses have to take additional steps when processing special categories of personal data to provide such protection including needing a condition under Article 9 of the GDPR to process the data as well as a lawful basis under Article 6 of the GDPR. In light of the employment tribunal ruling, it would be prudent for businesses to treat data revealing that someone is an ethical vegan as special category personal data.”
I know for certain that some animal protection organisations in the UK changed their pension arrangements after learning the reasons why I was dismissed (which means less money going to vivisection), and even the pension industry published an article titled “Landmark vegan case threatens to disrupt pensions industry” in which they wrote, “experts said this case opened the door for veganism to form part of the pension trustees’ environmental, social and governance considerations, and could have a wider impact on the pensions industry. Penny Cogher, partner at Irwin Mitchell, said: ‘Employers will need to take their employees’ views on ethical veganism seriously and ensure that they are not directly or indirectly discriminated against, harassed or victimised for expressing their belief on ethical veganism.’”
My case has also galvanised animal protection and vegan organisations fighting for vegans’ rights. In Spain, the non-profit organisation FEUMVE fights for vegan options in Spanish schools, and they told me that after interviewing me several times they felt energised to continue their fight. I later helped them by writing articles about their actions, such as when a school In the Basque Country “threatened” expelling students for demanding a vegan menu.
I am also sure that my case gave confidence to many vegans to be more expressive in manifesting their veganism (and perhaps because of this, helping more people to become vegan). After the ruling, the vegan barrister Alan Robertshaw wrote this in Advocates for Animals Solicitors: “Generally, employers have an absolute right to control or restrict conduct in the workplace. This could involve prohibitions on discussion about politics or beliefs; and/or the wearing of clothing with slogans or items related to religion or belief. Such restraint though has to be justifiable and proportionate. Different considerations might apply to staff dealing with customers to those working behind the scenes. Employers have to be consistent, though. Ethical veganism, and respect for animal life, are almost certainly “protected beliefs” within the meaning of the Equality Act. That is, they are afforded the same respect as religious beliefs. So, if an employer allows the wearing of religious iconography; then they would have to allow vegans the same. That means if your colleague can wear a crucifix, then arguably you can wear the Vegan symbol.”
Educating the World
Books have now been written about my case. I wrote two myself. Firstly, my book “Ethical Vegan, a personal and political journey to change the world” was written right after I ended my litigation, and it was published at the end of 2020. Among the three intertwined stories it contains, one is the story of my litigation (so, for those who may want to know more details about my case this book is probably the best source). Secondly, I contributed a chapter talking about my case to the book “Law and Veganism: International Perspectives on the Human Right to Freedom of Conscience” published in 2021.
I know that dissertations and thesis have been written about my case now, contributing to the education of lawyers and scholars. For instance, Lauren Strumos from the University of Ottawa wrote the paper, “Ethical veganism as nonreligion in Mr J Casamitjana Costa v the League Against Cruel Sports” in Sage Journals. Also in 2021, Carmen Jover Ramirez published a paper titled “Ethical Veganism as a Belief and Its Possible Repercussions in the Spanish Labour Law” in the journal Cuadernos Derecho Transnacional. In 2020, Jo Carby-Hall wrote an article titled “Le végétalisme éthique: une ‘particularité protégée’ dans le droit britannique sur les discriminations“ in the French journal Revue de Droit Comparé du Travail et de la Sécurité Sociale.
Although I am not a lawyer or a scholar, I have given several public talks about my case. For instance, on 2nd February 2020, I gave a talk at the Plant Powered Expo at the London Olympia, titled “The Legal Protection of Vegans”, and in June 2021 I gave another talk for the Animal Law Committee of the American Bar Association International. Little by little, experts and lay people alike have been learning that the era of Vegans Rights has begun and that vegans no longer have to tolerate being treated badly because of their beliefs.
If you are vegan and have been vegan for some years, you probably have experienced some form of discrimination, harassment, or victimisation. In my case, I argued that my former employer fired me for being an ethical vegan, harassed me because of my veganism, and victimised me because I blew the whistle about it, but it does not need to be that bad. Research shows vegans feeling discriminated against is a common phenomenon. In 2019, the UK law firm Crossland Employment Solicitors surveyed 1,000 vegans, concluding that a staggering 45% of them felt discriminated against by their employers.
However, there are veganphobes out there who can cross the line from unlawful discrimination into hate crime, and this is a serious problem. In 2020, The Times reported that, in the previous five years, the British police recorded a total of 172 crimes where vegans were the victims because of their veganism. What my case can do is prevent this number to increase too much. If we tackle prejudice first by having effective legal mechanisms to prevent discrimination, prejudice may never develop into hate to the extent we may need to consider adding vegans to the list of official hate crime victims. If we tackle the issue at its roots, it may not grow out of control, and we could solve this problem that is handicapping the work of vegans in building a compassionate vegan world for all of us — and all the animals. I feel that my case, with its deterrent and educational effects, may be contributing to this solution, and that pleases me.
When I saw the row of cameras outside the court about three years ago, I knew something big had happened. I am glad the effects of that day have been good for so many people in the world.
These are just the first three years.