Streatfeild v London Philharmonic Orchestra Ltd – “humanism” a philosophical belief capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010

In the case of latest of our series of posts from the Employment Tribunal ‘case archive’ we take a look at the case of Streatfeild v London Philharmonic Orchestra Ltd ET/2390772/2011. In this case an Employment Tribunal held that an employee’s belief in “humanism” could constitute a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 but, however, she had not been discriminated against because of that belief.

The facts in Streatfeild v London Philharmonic Orchestra Ltd

Ms Streatfield was a violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (“LPO”). In 2011 her name was on a letter published by the Independent newspaper protesting against an invitation to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to perform at the 2011 Proms. On the letter Ms Streatfield’s name was followed by the identifying name of “LPO”.

The letter, and the invitation of the Israel Philarmonic Orchestra, received a large amount of media coverage. Disciplinary proceedings were commenced against Ms Streatfeild and she was suspended on full pay for six months on the basis that she had caused serious damage to the LPO’s reputation.

Ms Streatfeild brought claims in the Employment Tribunal for discrimination, victimisation, and harassment on the ground of a philosophical belief, “humanism”.

The LPO applied to strike out Ms Streatfeild’s claims on the basis that they had no prospects of success and the application was heard at a preliminary hearing to determine:

  1. Whether “humanism” was capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010 as a philosophical belief
  2. If so, whether Ms Streatfield’s claims had prospects of success in the Employment Tribunal

The decision of the Employment Tribunal

The Employment Tribunal held, following the principles set out in Grainger plc v Nicholson [2010] IRLR 4 EAT, humanism was capable of being protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010: it was a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available, it was a belief as to substantial and weighty aspects of human life and behaviour, and it was a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society (and not incompatible with human dignity and/or in conflict with the fundamental rights of others). The Tribunal also held that Ms Grainger genuinely held the belief: she had a “long-held” belief in humanism, which was demonstrated in her education, her choice of partner, and the manner in which she had educated her children.

The Employment Tribunal held, however, that Ms Streatfield could not have been treated less favourably than other employees because of her beliefs because there was nothing in the disciplinary process to suggest that the relevant directors had been aware of Ms Streatfeild’s humanist beliefs. This lack of knowledge meant that Ms Streatfeild’s claim for direct discrimination was bound to fail and the Tribunal struck it out as having “no reasonable prospects of success”.

In respect of the victimisation claim, the Tribunal held that Ms Streatfeild would have great difficulty in arguing that the treatment she had been subjected to (her suspension) had been undertaken because of her beliefs, rather than (as the LPO argued) the fact that she had publicly criticised an event her employer was involved with in a national newspaper. The Tribunal applied the same reasoning to her claim for harassment and, for this purpose, ordered that Ms Streatfeild must pay a deposit order of £250 to continue with her claims (on the basis that they had “little reasonable prospect of success”.

Our solicitors’ comments on the case

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case demonstrates two main issues: 1) that a belief in humanism is capable of protection under the Equality Act 2010; and 2) that, in order for an employee to succeed with an argument that they have been discriminated against because of a protected characteristic they must first succeed in showing that the employer was aware of said characteristic.”