Belief in ownership of copyright was not a ‘philosophical belief’ under Equality Act (Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd, EAT)

In Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd UKEAT/0040/17 the Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) held that a dismissed employee’s belief in the right to own the output of her own creative work could not amount, in this instance, to a ‘philosophical belief’.

The factual background of Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd

Ms Gray commenced employment with Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd (“Mulberry”) in 2015 as a market support assistant; she was also at the relevant times a write and a film-maker. In her role Ms Gray had access to some of Mulberry’s designs ahead of their market launch.

At the start of Ms Gray’s employment with Mulberry she was asked to sign a contract of employment. The contract of employment contained a confidentiality clause as well as a clause relating to intellectual property – the intellectual property clause provided that Ms Gray would assign the copyright and other proprietary rights to Mulberry in respect of all works and designs originated, conceived, written or made by her in the course of her employment.

Ms Gray objected to the intellectual property clause as she claimed that it would interfere with her own work as a writer and film-maker; she was worried that this clause meant that intellectual property that she created outside of her employment could be assigned to Mulberry.

In response to the concerns she raised Mulberry agreed to amend the intellectual property clause so that it was clear that the only work that would be relevant to the clause was work that related to its business; however, Ms Gray still refused to sign the agreement. After several meetings it became clear to Mulberry HR that Ms Gray would not sign the agreement and she was dismissed for refusing to comply with her contract of employment. During her employment Ms Gray had not asserted that she held any form of relevant philosophical belief, nor did she assert that she was dismissed because of such.

Ms Gray subsequently made a clam in the Employment Tribunal for direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of philosophical belief. She described her belief as “the statutory moral or human right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output.”

The Employment Tribunal rejected Ms Gray’s claims, finding that her belief was genuinely held and concerned a substantial and weighty aspect of human life, but that the belief was not sufficiently cohesive to be defined as a “philosophical belief” under section 10(2) Equality Act 2010 (applying the “Grainger formula”, as analysed in this post).

Ms Gray appealed against this decision to the EAT.

The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal

The EAT dismissed the appeal, finding that the Tribunal had not made an error of law in its application of the Grainger criteria.

The EAT further held that the reason for her dismissal was because she had signed her contract of employment – whilst this refusal may have been prompted by her belief, it did not mean that she had been dismissed because she had manifested her belief: she had not made her belief known to her employer and the only reason that she had given for refusing to sign her contract was that Mulberry might gain rights over her creative output; there was not at any point an assertion that her refusal to sign her contract was driven by a philosophical belief she held.

Our solicitors’ comments on Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case shows that a ‘philosophical belief’ should normally be some sort of ‘philosophical touchstone’ and divorced from the relevant claimant’s personal and commercial interests”.

The full decision of the EAT in Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd UKEAT/0040/17 can be found here