A vegan sacked by his employer is bringing a landmark legal case to a British court on Thursday, hoping to change the law to ensure that veganism is considered a protected “philosophical belief” similar to religion.
Jordi Casamitjana, an “ethical vegan,” claims he was dismissed by animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports in April 2018 because he informed colleagues that their employer’s pension fund was “being invested in companies that experiment on animals” and non-ethical funds – a claim the charity has rejected.
But before challenging his former employer over his firing, Casamitjana is hoping to force a change to Britain’s Equality Act that would see veganism included as a philosophical belief protected from discrimination.
A two-day case began in Norwich, England on Thursday.
The law, passed in 2010, defines “religion or belief” as one of the nine “protected characteristics,” which include race, sex, pregnancy and maternity, making it unlawful for employers to discriminate on those grounds.
To qualify for protection under the act, Casamitjana’s lawyers must prove that veganism is “a belief and not an opinion,” that it has “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance,” and that it is “worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.”
Ethical vegans not only follow a vegan diet, but also oppose the use of animals for any purpose, such as wearing fur or animal testing.
Casamitjana argues that identifying as an ethical vegan involves “much more than just not eating food with animal ingredients,” and is a “philosophy and a belief system” encompassing most aspects of his life.
Veganism has ‘informed my daily existence’
“Ethical veganism is a philosophical belief held by a significant and growing portion of the population in the UK and around the world,” Peter Daly, Casamitjana’s legal representative at the Slater and Gordon law firm, added in a statement.
“This case, if successful, will establish that the belief entitles ethical vegans protection from discrimination.”
The League Against Cruel Sports is not disputing Casamitjana’s case for veganism to be afforded protected status.
Later in the year, the former employee plans to bring a separate case in which he will claim his own dismissal contravened his philosophical belief, which the charity opposes.
The company says he was sacked for gross misconduct.
“The discussion about veganism being a ‘philosophical belief’ is a thought-provoking one which many of our staff will be interested in – however this debate has absolutely no connection with why Mr. Casamitjana was sacked,” a spokesperson told CNN late last year.
“Casamitjana was not dismissed because he raised concerns about the pension, either internally or externally, so there is no substance to his claims that he was ‘whistleblowing.’”
Casamitjana has raised £8,700 ($11,500) for his case through a crowdfunding website. On his page, he writes that ethical veganism has “informed my daily existence, including my career and employment.”
“I have been an ethical vegan for over seventeen years, and it is as an ethical vegan that I live all aspects of my life as far as this is reasonably practical. This means that I do not eat, wear or consume any animal products,” he adds.
If Casamitjana is successful, the UK will become one of the first major countries to write specific protections for vegans into law.
It would mark a milestone for veganism, which grew in popularity throughout the 2010s, and would likely prompt similar legal pushes around the world.
CNN’s Nada Bashir and Tara John contributed reporting.