Veterinary Vegan Nurse Not Discriminated Against
In late July 2022 news emerged of a London Employment Tribunal judgment handed down in the case of a veterinary nurse who had claimed discrimination based on her vegan faith.
What Did The Veterinary Nurse Believe?
Throughout proceedings, it transpired that the veterinary nurse possessed a philosophical belief that she was under a moral commitment to violate the legal obligations to alleviate the distress of animals.
Nothing To See Here, Right?
This case is unusual as it appears to differ significantly from previous cases on philosophical belief in veganism. In contrast to the case of Dr. David Mackereth v The Department For Work and Pensions which was handed down by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in late June 2022 that the prospects of successfully claiming philosophical belief ‘the bar should not be set too high.
What Happened In The Case?
The case was noteworthy as it centered around a Veterinary Nurse employed at the prestigious Royal Veterinary College hospital and possesses ethical vegan views. She had been arrested during an ongoing investigation into dishonesty-related criminal offenses such as theft and burglaries organized by a faction of a campaign group the Animal Liberation Front. She held the following deep-seated beliefs:
- humans are duty bound to alleviate the plight of animals
- by doing stopping, reducing or limiting animal ill-treatment
- she believed that human beings should stop:
- utilizing in a sporting context or
- testing or making financial gains
animals. Arguably the most interesting of all the veterinary nurse believed that within this definition fell refusing to comply with legal obligations she considered to be unjust and left animals wide open to abuse.
In the employment relationship, all appeared to be progressing well until the veterinary nurse’s employer decided to terminate her contract employment on the basis that her behavior in committing dishonesty-related offenses such as burglary and theft was tantamount to gross misconduct. By way of evidence, the veterinary nurse’s employer suggested evidence that the Claimant’s behavior had violated the policy on social media.
How Was The Policy Violated?
The Claimant’s employer submitted evidence to support their allegations by suggesting that she had uploaded video clips and pictures of the animals residing at the veterinary hospital. However, the veterinary nurse had not sought the written approval of the proprietor, possible links with extremist associations, and illicit behavior. The veterinary nurse’s employer was concerned about the harm which may have been caused to their business relationships and reputation.
So What Is A Philosophical Belief?
The tribunal adjudicated whether the veterinary nurse’s beliefs were legally classified as ‘philosophical beliefs. Judge Grewal applied the leading authority of Grainger v Nicholson to assess if the veterinary nurse’s beliefs met the definition. It was essential for the view to be:
- held genuinely
- not be a view or an opinion with its foundation in the current data at hand
- a substantial belief regarding human existence and conduct
- one which is promoted to a higher plain in terms of logic, togetherness, significance and
- be reputable in a democracy, compatible with the human right to dignity, and not violate the rights of affected parties.
What Did The Judge Say?
The Employment Tribunal dismissed the Claimant’s submission that her employment contract had been terminated due to her beliefs. He found that the Claimant been dismissed due to her conduct in committing acts of burglary and theft.
Lawyers need to be advising their claimant clients to avoid situations where they are committing criminal acts such as theft and burglary, however well-intentioned. There is no guarantee that Employment Tribunal judges will buy an argument for philosophical beliefs in similar circumstances.
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THE ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN USING THE FOLLOWING SOURCES
 Employment Tribunal judgment – Ms S Free Miles v The Royal Veterinary College (2022) Case Number 2206733/2020 - EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS (publishing.service.gov.uk)
 Dr David Mackereth v The Department For Work and Pensions  EAT 99 – Employment Appeal Tribunal - Dr_David_Mackereth_v_The_Department_of_Work_and_Pensions__1__Advanced_Personnel_Management_Group__UK__Limited__2___2022__EAT_99.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
 Ms A Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd  UKEAT/0040/17/DA – Employment Appeal Tribunal - Microsoft Word - EAT 0040 17 DA - Gray - 13.07.doc (publishing.service.gov.uk)
 Wrigley, Elspeth – The Grainger case – a double edged sword for climate change campaigners – UK Human Rights Blog – 18 January 2010 - The Grainger case - a double edged sword for climate change campaigners? - UK Human Rights Blog
 Grainger Plc & Others – v Mr T Nicholson – Employment Appeal Tribunal - Grainger Plc & Ors v. Nicholson  UKEAT 0219_09_0311 (3 November 2009) (bailii.org)