As employment lawyers, we come across allegations of discrimination every day. Occasionally, the alleged discrimination is on the grounds of the employee’s belief. These can be someone’s religion or philosophy.
Occasionally, what someone believes in is surprising. Can an employee be discriminated against on grounds of philosophical belief where the employee is the only person to have that belief?
No – in the case of Ms Gray in her claim against Mullberry.
Ms Gray refused to sign a standard contract which assigned copyright in her work to her employer, fearing it would give them ownership over a novel and screenplay she was writing. She was eventually dismissed.
She claimed her belief in the sanctity of copyright law was a philosophical belief and as such, was a protected characteristic under s10(2) of the Equality Act 2010 and was discriminated against because of it.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) had to consider whether a belief in “the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output” amounted to a philosophical belief. It applied a test used in previous cases. To qualify, the belief must:
- Be genuinely held.
- Be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
- Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
After considering the above, the EAT held that the tribunal was entitled to conclude that the belief lacked sufficient cogency to qualify under the Equality Act 2010.
Interestingly, the EAT held that even if it was wrong, there could be no indirect discrimination because Ms Gray was the only person known to hold such a belief. Ms Gray could not therefore be part of a group that was being put to a disadvantage. Her indirect discrimination claim had to fail.
Permission has been granted to appeal to the Court of Appeal.
You can read the full judgement of Gray v Mulberry Company Design Ltd here.