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Employee with “non-feminist belief” loses discrimination claim

In a recent tribunal case, an employee ran the unusual argument that he had been discriminated against because of his non-feminist belief.    The argument did not find favour with the Tribunal who concluded that far from being discriminated against, the employee had committed an act of discrimination by declaring himself a “non feminist”. 

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate in the workplace on the grounds of an employee’s religion or belief.

Religion is defined in the Equality Act 2010 as “any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion” and belief means “any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.”

In order for a belief to be protected under the Equality Act 2010, it must:

  • Be generally held;
  • Be held as a belief and not as an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • Be a belief as to weighty and substantial aspect of human life and  behaviour;
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society;
  • Be compatible with human dignity; and
  • Not conflict with the rights of others.

This is called the “Grainger” criteria after the case of Grainger Plc v Nicholson in which they were established.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of religion or belief. 

The case was brought by Kevin Legge against his former employer, The Environment Agency.   Mr Legge worked for the Environment Agency for 16 years before he was dismissed for not informing his employer that he was working elsewhere whilst contracted to work full time at the Agency. 

During his employment, Mr Legge took umbrage at, what he perceived to be, his employer’s pursuit of a policy of positive discrimination in favour of women.  Mr Legge told the Tribunal that when he made it clear to his employer his anti-feminist views, he was discriminated against.  

Mr Legge claimed that his female manager had an agenda of promoting women over men and that when he refused to “do [their] bidding by favouring women over men in recruitment or promotion” he was subjected to direct discrimination and victimisation.  He claimed he was overloaded with work, subjected to unwarranted criticism and ultimately dismissed because of his lack of belief in “feminism”.

The Tribunal accepted that Mr Legge genuinely held a “non-feminist” belief but held that his belief did not meet the criteria necessary for it to be protected by discrimination laws.   The Tribunal held that not agreeing with equality and diversity in the workplace was a ‘questionable’ belief, was not worthy of respect or compatible with human dignity and that it conflicted with the rights of others.

The Tribunal admitted that it was “slightly perplexed” by Mr Legge’s argument and said that, in fact, his maintaining his non-feminist view was discriminatory in itself.

The Tribunal went on to conclude that there was a clear absence of real substantial evidence to link any of Mr Legge’s treatment to his non-belief.    It believed the Environment Agency’s evidence that they supported equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and that there was not “some agenda or conspiracy from higher management to remove males from management positions, or have in some way been looking to appoint females at every opportunity,’ as Mr Legge had alleged.  

The Tribunal held that the actions that the Environment Agency took were related either to Mr Legge’s own capability or conduct and were totally unrelated to his belief. 

Unsurprisingly all of Mr Legge’s claims were dismissed and he was subsequently ordered to pay a large contribution towards the Environmental Agency’s legal costs.

You can read the full judgement here: JUDGEMENT

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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