Contractor Argued His Support for Glasgow Rangers Football Club Amounted to a Philosophical Belief

In the case of Mr E McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd and others, an ardent supporter of Glasgow Rangers Football Club [“Rangers FC”]  claimed that his support for the club was a philosophical belief. He thus felt it should be recognised as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. This was rejected by the Employment Tribunal.

The Facts in Mr E McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd and others

Mr McClung [the “Claimant”] commenced work on 21 January 2019 on a contract basis until 7 June 2019. He works as a service provider through his personal services company, McClung Strategy and Projects Ltd. The companies he provided services for were, Doosan Babcock Ltd;  NRL Ltd;  and Donald Ross (who became the three respondents).  His claim for unfair dismissal failed, as his employment status as a contractor/self-employed person, was determined at an earlier tribunal preliminary hearing.

During the course of his employment, the Claimant argued that he has been subject to direct discrimination and harassment, due to his belief.

The Claimant claimed that two incidents involving a confrontation between himself and  Donald Ross amounted to direct discrimination and harassment. These involved him being sworn at loudly and aggressively over a disagreement during lunch periods. The Claimant in his claim only appeared to have made one reference to philosophical belief, based on a comment that Ian Chisholm was “unusually ok for a Rangers fan”, which was not directed at the Claimant.

A preliminary hearing was arranged at the Employment Tribunal to determine whether support for Rangers FC constituted a philosophical belief on which his discrimination claim relied. The Claimant argued he had a genuine philosophical belief based on his support for Rangers FC. He had attended many games and spent a large amount of his income on attending these games and this constituted a key part of his life.

He argued there was a shared belief or cohesion between the approximately 1.4 million Rangers FC supporters. This included allegiance to the sovereign and support for Unionism and Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom. The Claimant also argued that supporting Rangers FC “was a weighty aspect of human life and behaviour”.

The Decision of the Employment Tribunal (ET)

The ET found that the Claimant’s belief in supporting Rangers FC did not amount to a philosophical belief as per the Equality Act 2010. Hence, it did not amount to a protected characteristic under that Act.  In reaching their decision the tribunal looked in detail at the meaning of philosophical belief in particular and applied this to the Claimant’s case. One set of wording they looked at was the Explanatory Notes to the Equality Act 2010 which stated:-

“….beliefs such as humanism and atheism would be beliefs for the purposes of this provision, but adherence to a particular football team would not be”.

The tribunal also scrutinised the actions of “support” in the context of a football team or even a political party. They found this to fall short of constituting a philosophical belief as such.  Support for a football club was considered to be “more akin to a lifestyle choice” rather than a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.  The Claimant’s argument about a common bond between Rangers FC supporters based on their support for the Sovereign and the Union as a homogenous group was not accepted. Many fans would be expected to hold different views on these areas, and their main cohesive bond was based on their team winning games.

Our Lawyer Steve Norton’s View on This Case

There has been a fair bit of commentary on this case. However, my view is that this is another interesting development on what can or can’t constitute a genuine philosophical belief. Although several new belief systems have been added as case laws develop further, it is still subject to close judicial scrutiny and analysis based on the Equality Act and relevant case law.

The decision of the Employment Tribunal can be found here