Grainger plc & ors v Nicholson – the Employment Appeal Tribunal clarifies what constitutes a ‘philosophical belief’

In the important case of Grainger plc and others v Nicholson EAT/0219/09 the Employment Appeal Tribunal clarified the test as to what amounts to a ‘philosophical belief’ for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010

The facts of Grainger plc & ors v Nicholson 

Mr Nicholson was made redundant and subsequently brought claims for unfair dismissal as well as religion and belief discrimination against his former employer, Grainger plc. Mr Nicholson argued that his belief about climate change and the environment was not simply an opinion, but constituted a philosophical belief under the relevant legislation (then the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, now the Equality Act 2010; he said that his particular beliefs (that “mankind is heading towards catastrophic climate change and therefore we are all under a moral duty to lead our lives in a manner which mitigates or avoids this catastrophe for the benefit of future generations, and to persuade others to do the same”) influenced how he travelled, how he decided what to buy, eat, and drink, and what he did with his waste produced.

Grainger plc sought to strike Mr Nicholson’s claim out, arguing that the belief that he was asserting was not sufficient to constitute a ‘philosophical belief’.

The Employment Tribunal’s decision

An Employment Tribunal held that it would not strike Mr Nicholson’s claim out and that his claim could proceed, as the Tribunal found that his belief amounted to a ‘philosophical belief’ under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

Grainger plc appealed against the decision of the Employment Tribunal, arguing the Employment Tribunal had not correctly applied the law on philosophical beliefs.

The decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal

The Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed Grainger plc’s appeal, holding that the Tribunal had correctly examined whether Mr Nicholson’s belief was capable of constituting a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003; the EAT did, however, hold that the Tribunal had erred in not considering whether Mr Nicholson genuinely held this philosophical belief, and that Mr Nicholson should give evidence and be cross-examined on such.

The EAT went on to clarify the legal test for a philosophical belief – in order to be a philosophical belief within the legislation (now the Equality Act 2010), it must:

  • be genuinely held
  • be a belief and 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
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  • be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Our employment solicitors’ comments

Chris Hadrill, a partner in the employment department at Redmans, commented on the case: “The case of Grainger plc & ors v Nicholson is an important precedent in the field of employment law, as it has laid down a yet-unchallenged benchmark as to how a philosophical belief is supposed to be evaluated.”