What is a philosophical belief?
In a recent case (Gray v Mulberry), an employee who was dismissed by the luxury handbag brand argued that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her philosophical belief. Rather unusually, that philosophical belief was the sanctity of copyright law and this was the reason she refused to sign a copyright agreement and was subsequently dismissed.
An Employment Tribunal decided that Ms Gray’s belief fell short of what was required to fall within the protection of religion or belief discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 sets out the law prohibiting discrimination. This includes protecting someone from being discriminated against because of a particular philosophical belief they hold.
In seeking to determine whether a belief is a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, an individual needs to demonstrate that:
- it is a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information;
- the belief is genuinely held;
- the belief concerns a “weighty” and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- it is “worthy of respect in a democratic society”; and
- it is held with “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.
The Employment Tribunal made the following findings:
- that Ms Gray’s belief in the sanctity of copyright law was a belief rather than an opinion based on the present state of information;
- it accepted that the belief was genuinely held in that Ms Gray honestly believed it;
- although not in dispute, the Tribunal concluded that copyright law was a sufficiently “weighty” and substantial aspect of human life;
- it accepted that the belief was worthy of respect in a democratic society; and
- it did not accept that Ms Gray held that belief as any “sort of philosophical touchstone of her life”.
So while Ms Gray’s belief in the sanctity of copyright law satisfied part of the test for whether a belief was a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, the Employment Tribunal did not consider that she held the belief with “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”.
Ms Gray appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal which upheld the Employment Tribunal’s decision.
While it may appear from recent cases that what is a philosophical belief is wide, establishing the belief is only part of the equation. This case reinforces that point that how genuine someone’s belief is and how much of an impact it has on aspects of the life they lead are important in determining whether a belief is capable of protection.