Discrimination: Philosophical Belief

Summary

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld an Employment Tribunal’s decision in Gray v Mulberry which found that an employee had not been discriminated against on the grounds of philosophical belief. The employee was the only person to hold such a belief, and it was found that the Respondent’s interests in this case were greater than the belief held by the employee.

Facts

The Claimant was a writer and film-maker. The Claimant started working for a luxury fashion company (“the Respondent”) as a Market Support Assistant in January 2015. As a condition of her employment, the Claimant was required to sign a contract of employment and a copyright agreement (“the Agreement”) which sought to protect the intellectual property rights of the Respondent.

The Claimant signed the contract of employment, but not the Agreement as “she believed that the Agreement could extend to her artistic activities away from work.” In response to the Claimant’s concerns, the Respondent amended the Agreement and made it clear that it was only interested in protecting any intellectual property rights which related to its business.

The Claimant refused to sign the amended or the original version of the Agreement and was dismissed on 22 September 2015 for failure to sign as this was a condition of continued employment. The Claimant claimed direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of her belief, being “the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output”.

Outcome

The issue for the Employment Tribunal was to determine whether the Claimant’s belief amounted to a belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, namely a religious or philosophical belief or lack of. The Tribunal found that the Claimant did not hold a belief that was capable of protection under the 2010 Act. The Respondent’s requirement for the Claimant to sign the Agreement was a legitimate aim in that the Respondent desired to protect its own intellectual property.

The Claimant appealed this decision. This was dismissed by the EAT which upheld the Tribunal’s decision. The EAT agreed with the Tribunal’s findings and commented that “having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.” It also suggested that “the refusal to sign could, objectively viewed, have been for any number of reasons, none of which had anything to do with a philosophical belief.”

The EAT also noted that, whilst the impact of the Claimant’s dismissal for refusing to sign was severe, the Respondent’s interests in seeking to protect its intellectual property and in ensuring that employees were aware of their obligations in this regard, were correspondingly greater.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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