By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Jan 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Choosing to be a vegan for ethical reasons is a "philosophical belief" that warrants protection by law, a tribunal in Britain has ruled in a landmark hearing.
The case involves vegan zoologist Jordi Casamitjana who claims he was fired by animal welfare charity League Against Cruel Sports due to his ethical veganism after a dispute over pension investments.
The charity says Casamitjana, aged 55, was dismissed for gross misconduct.
A judge found that ethical veganism - leading a life that avoids all harm to animals - is covered by Britain's Equality Act 2010 but has yet to rule on Casamitjana's dismissal.
The ruling will give vegans clearer rights to accommodations like suitable food at a work event, said Meghan Campbell, a law lecturer at the University of Birmingham.
"It definitely opens up the door for other beliefs to get protected status," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, citing climate activism as an example.
Casamitjana said he was "extremely happy" with the ruling.
"Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans," he said in a statement.
Vegans avoid eating meat and fish and other animal products like eggs and dairy.
Ethical veganism has no agreed definition but tends to go further by avoiding all links to animal exploitation such as wearing wool or leather, or using products tested on animals.
Casamitjana's beliefs in the sanctity of animal life "extend beyond matters of food into all areas of his consumption", according to documents submitted to the tribunal.
He tries to skip gatherings where non-vegan food is served, avoids sitting on leather seats, and will walk for up to an hour "to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds that may occur when taking a bus", he said in a statement.
Philosophical beliefs are protected under Britain's Equality Act which aims to prevent discrimination due to a person's religion or other deeply-held convictions.
For a belief to qualify it must relate to a "weighty aspect of human life" and be "worthy of respect in a democratic society".
Employers and employees "should be cautious not to draw blanket rules from one-off judgments", said Sarah Chilton, a partner at CM Murray law firm, who said each case would be assessed on its own merits. (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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