Help an Ethical Vegan who was dismissed by an Animal Welfare charity
Help an Ethical Vegan who was dismissed by an Animal Welfare charity
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Latest: March 28, 2019
More details about the pre-hearing on ethical veganism in October 2019
I can now give you more details from the pre-hearing a few weeks ago when the Employment Tribunal Judge ruled that the pre-hearing to determine if veganism is a protected belief will happen l...Read more
Who am I?
My name is Jordi Casamitjana and I am a whistleblower.
I am an Ethical Vegan who was dismissed by an Animal Welfare charity after I blew the whistle that their pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing.
Most of my adult life I have pursued the philosophy of ethical veganism. It has informed my daily existence, including my career and employment.
In September 2016, I returned to work at a prominent animal welfare charity that I had worked for some years before. I was enrolled in the charity’s pension. But I discovered that the pension was investing in companies, including pharmaceutical and tobacco companies, who are known to engage in animal testing.
I raised this with my employer as their investment in such companies was directly contradictory to the reason for the existence and values of the organisation. At first they agreed with me and stated that the pension fund would be changed, then they told to all staff that the pension had been changed to an ethical fund, then admitted to me but not to all my colleagues that it hadn’t been changed, and finally they stated that I could personally change mine. At my request they sent an email around to staff which gave only one ethical fund alternative, which offered worse rates of return than some of the other ethical pension funds that were also available.
When I wrote to my colleagues to tell them that their pension was being invested in non-ethical funds, and that there were alternatives to the single alternative that the company was suggesting, I was sacked. I was given no appeal hearing.
Background to my case?
Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, I am a Zoologist specialising in animal behaviour (Ethologist), who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for over 20 years.
In addition to scientific research I have worked mostly as an investigator, animal welfare consultant and animal protection campaigner, both freelance and for many reputable animal advocacy organisations in different countries.
My most notable work has been my involvement with the first successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 (when working for the League Against Cruel Sports), the exposé of trail hunting as a false alibi (when working for IFAW) and my participation in the campaign that led to the ban on bullfighting in Catalonia (as a consultant of PROU).
I have been an ethical vegan for over seventeen years, and it is as an ethical vegan that I live all aspects of my life as far as this is reasonably practical. This means that I do not eat, wear or consume any animal products.
Why does this case matter?
- Donors to animal protection charities have the right to expect that the money they donate will be invested in a way which is compatible with their beliefs. The investment of charitable funds in companies that test on animals is a betrayal of the trust placed in those charities by their donors.
- Whistleblowers have the right not to be dismissed because they have blown the whistle. Where this happens in supposedly ethical organisations, it is all the more egregious.
- The philosophical belief in ethical veganism has not yet been tested before the UK courts. All the signs are that the courts will accept that it is a belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act 2010. My case will put that to the test.
I have instructed Bindmans LLP, a firm known for bringing and winning important whistleblowing and discrimination claims. Bindmans acted for Joe Hashman in his philosophical belief discrimination claim which established that the belief in the sanctity of animal life was protected under the Equality Act 2010.
My claim will be that as a result of raising protected disclosures, I suffered a series of detriments, and that the decision to dismiss me was discriminatory on the grounds of my philosophical belief.
How much am I raising and why?
I am seeking to raise £5,000 initially to cover the drafting of the pleadings and collation of the evidence. But in order to continue to bring the claim I ultimately need to raise £40,000.
Please contribute and share this page to help me reach as wide an audience of potential contributors as possible.
March 28, 2019
More details about the pre-hearing on ethical veganism in October 2019
I can now give you more details from the pre-hearing a few weeks ago when the Employment Tribunal Judge ruled that the pre-hearing to determine if veganism is a protected belief will happen later in the year, despite the concession of my former employer.
To recap, as you remember when I was dismissed about a year ago, thanks to the support of many of you I managed to collect enough funds for legal fees to launch a claim against my former employer for discrimination (due to me being an ethical vegan) and whistleblowing (due to the fact I blew the whistle on the problems of pension funds invested in non-ethical companies). My former employer responded to the claim denying any wrongdoing, and stating that ethical veganism is not a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010. In that response they requested to have a separate pre-hearing on the question of whether ethical veganism is indeed protected, and we agreed.
Encouraged by all your support we began building our case for the pre-hearing. We produced over 1,200 pages of disclosure documents with much of the evidence we were planning to present. After serving this disclosure on the lawyers of my former employers, they communicated to us that they changed their mind and they no longer contested that ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, and that I am an ethical vegan holding such belief.
Although this was good for my case in the sense that they conceded in two points of my claim which will reduce the time and effort needed to argue for the rest of my claim, this also meant that there would no longer be the need to discuss the issue in a pre-hearing, and for the judge to produce a written judgment about this issue that would have been of use to other ethical vegans, and to society in general. To all intents and purposes that judgment would effectively confirm that ethical veganism is indeed a legally protected philosophical belief in the UK.
Therefore, we no longer needed the two day preliminary hearing in March to discuss this issue, but as there were still some other points to resolve ahead of the eventual trial, the preliminary hearing went ahead as a single day hearing on the 14th of March.
However, when we were waiting outside the Employment Tribunal to begin the preliminary hearing, both sides received a note from the sitting judge, communicating his view that the Employment Tribunal should still determine the status of the ethical veganism as a philosophical belief, and should still produce a written judgment on the question. This was quite an unexpected surprise for both sides, and as we were not prepared to do that right then (we did not have the evidence with us, we had already called off all our witnesses, etc.), and both sides agreed to discuss this in a separate two day pre-hearing.
As the Employment Tribunal system is full of active cases at the moment, we could not find any available date to everyone until October. So, the preliminary hearing on the issue of whether ethical veganism is a protected belief will indeed happen after all, but this time it will be on 17th and 18th of October 2019, at Norwich Employment Tribunal. The first day will only be for the Judges to read all the documents, and the second day will be public and is when oral testimony will be given. After this hearing the judge will produce a written judgement on the issue of the protection of ethical veganism.
The Judge in Reading was also mindful of the public interest in the case, and was keen that all of the evidence will be publicly available so that the press and public can see it for themselves. My solicitors therefore volunteered to post this documentation online in advance of the October hearing and it will go online then. This will include the legal submissions my lawyers are preparing, the witness statements that will be before the Tribunal, and the documentary evidence.
Regardless of the judgment arising from the October hearing, my actual trial when the discrimination and whistle blowing part of my case will be examined will continue in February 2020, and it will last 10 days.
Now that we know the length of the pre-hearings and merit hearings we are in a better position to estimate the total amount in legal fees that it will cost. It would most likely be more than we initially estimated, so despite I have already reached 300 donors (which is amazing, thanks!) I still need many more donations so I can carry on with the case to the end. Therefore, please keep supporting me and contact your friends and family asking them to support me too.
Thanks again for all your generosity.
March 14, 2019
The pre-hearing to determine if veganism is a protected belief will happen!
Today we had a very positive pre-hearing at the Reading's Employment Tribunal in which the most significant development has been the judge ruling that the fact that my former employer conceded that ethical veganism is a protected belief under the Equality Act, and that I hold that belief, is not enough to satisfy the tribunal on these points, so we will still need a separate public pre-hearing (on a later day) on the matter of ethical veganism, as it was initially planned before the concession.
This is good news for all ethical vegans. We now need to digest properly everything the judge ruled on today, so we will post another update with more details after we have done so.
Feb. 22, 2019
What next now that my former employer has conceded on the Ethical Veganism point
This is an update to my supporters following the announcement last week that the League Against Cruel Sports have abandoned their previous position that Ethical Veganism was not a protected philosophical belief.
This was a remarkable development, but it was hard-won. We had submitted around 1200 pages in disclosure, and had nearly completed the statements of the three witnesses we would be calling. A significant amount of work went into this, which would not have been possible without the donations to the crowdfunding made by my supporters. I am hugely grateful.
The full circumstances of how the League decided to back down cannot (for now) be shared: the litigation is ongoing, and it would not be appropriate for me to publish details of the correspondence with them until that correspondence is heard in open court.
That will take place at a trial (a Full Merits Hearing) which has not yet been listed. I am told that it is likely to take place later this year. That trial will deal with the question of whether I was dismissed because I am an Ethical Vegan and whether I was dismissed because I blew the whistle.
Although last week’s concession means we won’t get a written judgment in March on the status of ethical veganism, we believe that my case will be the first case so far in which ethical veganism was considered a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. It will therefore be used in future cases to support other discriminated ethical vegans.
We believe that it is a matter of public interest to let employers and vegans know that the evidence that ethical veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 was so overwhelming that in this case the respondent conceded this point once they saw the evidence they had to overcome. I hope that other employers who may think they can discriminate against ethical vegan should think twice, and realise that all the evidence and testimonies we have collected may now be at the disposition of other vegans.
It is important now that I win my discrimination and whistleblowing case. I still need donations to cover my legal fees for that, more so now that we have already spent most of the fees that had already been donated.
This has been an important victory, but the fight is not yet won.
Feb. 15, 2019
The League Against Cruel Sports Has Conceded A Crucial Point Of My Case!
I have just been notified by my lawyers that the League Against Cruel Sports has formally conceded that my Ethical Veganism is a protected philosophical belief, and that there will not need to be a hearing to determine this point on 13 and 14 March 2019.
I am pleased that the strength of the case that we were able to put together – thanks to the generous contributions I have received, for which I am very grateful – has achieved this outcome.
I am still considering the implications of this with my lawyers, and will update the page as soon as I am able to do so, which should be very early next week.
Dec. 24, 2018
Reduction of extended target
I am very pleased to announce we have recently received very generous donations from individuals and organisations which have allowed me to revise down our extended target from £40,000 to £13,000. This means that we have already crossed the 50% milestone!.
I am very touched by all the help I am receiving from so many people (vegans and non-vegans alike), many of whom I know are struggling financially but yet they still wanted to contribute.
Among those supporting my case I have to especially thank the Vegan Society, who are supporting the philosophical belief hearing (whilst taking no stance on the overall tribunal). Their support shows that this case has the capacity to improve the recognition of ethical veganism as a coherent, developed and increasingly well supported philosophy, and also to confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously.
Now that we are getting much closer to the final target, and I got so much attention from the media not just in the UK but in many countries, we need to keep pushing, so please keep sharing my crowdjustice page and encourage others to support.
I hope you all have a good holiday break and a wonderful New Year.
All the best
Dec. 6, 2018
After the Media Storm: Some Questions Answered
The coverage across the BBC on Monday was phenomenal. As well as reports and interviews on the TV, radio and online, it sparked a national debate on the nature of philosophical belief discrimination, and on ethical veganism. It was covered across the world, from the US to New Zealand. At last count, there were over 225 different articles online covering the case, in addition to the various TV and radio pieces on it.
Perhaps inevitably, this has led to some conjecture and mistaken reporting which has misrepresented the facts of the case. Given the scale of the coverage, it has not been possible to address this directly with most outlets, although I have tried to do this where I can. Credit in particular to the Washington Post, who swiftly and professionally made wholesale revisions to their article, when some errors were pointed out to them.
I am in the process of preparing for the March hearing, which must take priority. As a result and given the scale of the reporting of the story, I cannot address all of the factual mistakes that have been reported. I have therefore prepared the following FAQ, so that there is no mistaken impression in people’s minds.
- Is it true that you were dismissed because you were not good at your job?
No. I worked for my former employer between 2004 and 2007, when I left on very good terms to continue my animal rights campaigning elsewhere. In 2016, I returned to a more senior role there, and remained there until I was dismissed in 2018. There was never any criticism made of my performance, which was always commended. I was never subject to any capability or disciplinary procedures (or, to my knowledge, was I ever even the subject of any informal concerns) during either period I was working for my former employer, or at any other employer at any stage of my career, before the events that led to my dismissal.
- Is it true that you were dismissed for gross misconduct?
“Conduct” (and by extension misconduct, and gross misconduct) is one of the five potentially fair reasons for dismissal under UK employment law. It is correct that “gross misconduct” is the reason that my former employer has given for my dismissal. The Employment Tribunal claim I have brought is on the basis that my actions did not constitute gross misconduct and therefore that the dismissal was unfair.
Once the Tribunal has determined the legal status of the philosophical belief in ethical veganism, it will then move on to determine (at a subsequent hearing or hearings) whether or not my actions constituted gross misconduct capable of justifying my dismissal, as my former employer has asserted, and whether the dismissal was because I raised protected disclosures or was discriminated against on the basis of my philosophical belief in ethical veganism (assuming that the Tribunal finds that my ethical veganism is a philosophical belief protected at law).
The conduct in particular that my former employer relies on in justifying the allegation of gross misconduct was my sharing of information about their pension fund with my colleagues and managers. They were all (as far as I am aware) contributors to that pension fund. I believed that the fund that they were contributing to was unethical because it invested funds in companies that tested on animals. I felt that this was contrary to my philosophical belief, but also the charitable object of my former employer, and therefore that it was in the public interest and in the organisation’s interest to correct this. I believe that I was justified in sharing this information, and that it was not gross misconduct for me to share this information - which included the means by which my colleagues could ensure that their pensions were invested in ethical funds if they decided that they wanted to do so (and I placed no pressure on them to do so).
My employer disagreed and labelled my actions as gross misconduct. The Tribunal will determine the matter.
- Is it true that you leaked sensitive information into the public domain?
No. Nothing went into the public domain or outside of my former employer. The information that I shared was only with colleagues and managers, or to the pension fund itself, and was only about the pension fund to which my colleagues contributed.
- Your case has been reported as a whistleblowing case. How can it be that your dismissal was linked to your ethical veganism?
My case is that the disclosures that I made to management and to colleagues about the pension fund were protected disclosures (the legal term for whistleblowing). As a result of these protected disclosures, I was disciplined. The sanction that was applied to me as the outcome of that disciplinary procedure was my summary dismissal.
My case is that the decision to dismiss me was taken because of my philosophical belief in ethical veganism. There were various points in the disciplinary procedure in which my ethical and philosophical beliefs were explicitly referred to, and my case is that it was explicit in my former employer’s approach to the disciplinary procedure that I was an ethical vegan and was to be treated accordingly in ways which were always to my detriment and which resulted in the outcome of dismissal. By way of one example, in the outcome letter arising from that disciplinary procedure, my former employer explicitly stated that the sanction of dismissal was appropriate because of my “ethical beliefs”.
So my case is about both whistleblowing and discrimination: I was disciplined because of the protected disclosures, that disciplinary was unfairly and discriminatorily biased against me because of my philosophical beliefs, and these biases led to my dismissal. Both factors – whistleblowing and discrimination - therefore caused me to be dismissed.
My former employer disputes the case I am advancing. It says that the decision to discipline and dismiss me had nothing to do with either my disclosures about the pension fund (which it says were not protected disclosures under the relevant law) or my philosophical belief in ethical veganism (which it says is not a philosophical belief capable of legal protection).
The Tribunal will rule on who is correct. The first step in this is determining whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief capable of protection under the discrimination legislation. My former employer says that it is not, and the Tribunal will determine who is correct. This is the hearing to be held on 13 and 14 March 2019. Once this is determined, the litigation will then move on to consider whether my philosophical belief, or my protected disclosures, led to my dismissal.
- Isn’t it true that you are just using this litigation to advance your beliefs in ethical veganism?
No. I would much rather not have been disciplined, or dismissed, or placed in the position where it was necessary to litigate. However, this is the position that I have been placed in. I believe that I have been discriminated against, and in order to assert my legal rights, I need to establish as a point of law whether ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief. If, as a by-product of the way I have been treated, I am able to establish that ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief which results in other ethical vegans having greater protections under the law, then that is a welcome by-product. But it is not something that I have sought out, and it is not something I would have chosen.
For reasons which I hope are clear, it is not appropriate for me to give a commentary on the Tribunal proceedings. The matter is before the Tribunal, and it is for the Tribunal to determine the outcome.
The purpose of the FAQ above is to present what I hope is a non-controversial response to some of areas of confusion that have arisen in the public consciousness following the recent media coverage.
The Respondent (my former employer) is entitled to present its own version of events, both in the litigation and in the public domain, as it sees fit. If I disagree with anything they say in the public domain, I may correct it. Ideally however, both sides can now concentrate on the litigation.
It is not my intention to publish any further detail of the substance of the case - although I will of course update donors to the crowdfunding on procedural milestones in the litigation.
I also wanted to thank everyone, and the vegan community in particular, for the support that I have received in recent days. There is a daunting and difficult task before me, and the personal messages I have received – including from people I have never met, and in all likelihood will never meet – has been particularly heartening for me, and I am very grateful. Thank you.
Finally, one last request: if you think that this update might be of interest to anyone who’s interested in my case (or might be!) please send it to them.
Dec. 3, 2018
First hearing about whether ethical veganism is a protected belief
The Employment Tribunal has set a date for a hearing to determine whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief capable of protection under discrimination legislation. The hearing will be on 13 and 14 March 2019.
This is not a hearing to determine whether I was unfairly dismissed, or suffered any detriment because of my beliefs, or because I blew the whistle: it’s a hearing to decide the legal status of the belief in ethical veganism. If we are successful in establishing that ethical veganism is such a philosophical belief, then a subsequent hearing will deal with the question of whether I was discriminated because of that belief. But the hearing on March 13 and 14 is not first and foremost about me: it’s about all ethical vegans.
The hearing on March 13 and 14 is therefore incredibly important. The Employment Tribunal cannot issue binding precedents, but where Tribunals have issued judgments which recognise philosophical beliefs in the past, those judgments tend to have been followed by other courts and tribunals subsequently. This means that, if we are successful, it is very likely that ethical veganism will effectively be established in law as a philosophical belief, and discrimination against ethical vegans will be unlawful in the future.
My lawyers at Bindmans LLP, led by Peter Daly, are already well advanced in preparation for the hearing. As you can probably imagine, there is a large amount of work involved in preparing a case which seeks to establish that a particular philosophical belief satisfies the complex legal definitions set out in the Equality Act 2010. We have a large amount of evidence – which is one of the strengths of our case – but it needs to be collated and prepared, and our legal arguments refined. This will take time and incur costs.
I am entirely reliant on your donations in order to bring the case. I am eternally grateful for the donations I have already received and I couldn’t have reached even this stage without you. But we haven’t achieved anything substantive yet: we’ve only got to a position where we are in touching distance of a real achievement being made. We’re nearly there, but we’re not there yet.
The Vegan Society are supporting the philosophical belief hearing (whilst taking no stance on the overall tribunal). Their support shows that this case has the capacity to improve the recognition of ethical veganism as a coherent, developed and increasingly well supported philosophy, and also to confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously.
Please continue to support me and donate whatever you can to help our efforts. Even sharing this page on social media will be of huge assistance. Any small amount really makes a difference. We are a community, and we have strength in numbers: let’s use those numbers to generate a real and important change in the law.
July 26, 2018
Employment Tribunal accepted my claim
The Employment Tribunal has now written to us confirming it has accepted our claim. It has now been sent it to the charity (the Respondent) which has 28 days to send a response back. Their response will tell us a lot about their attitude towards ethical veganism more broadly. I will be sure to update as things develop in the coming weeks with how we intend to proceed.
For your information the tribunal has already sent us a date for the first preliminary hearing, which will be in March 2019.
This is proving a complicated and long process for which I am still in need of funding. So I would greatly appreciate you emailing the Guardian article below to at least five friends to let them know about the case and ask them to visit my case page: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jun/16/league-against-cruel-sports-legal-battle-with-whistleblower
Please also continue sharing on social media.
Thanks for your support,
July 4, 2018
Claim sent to the Employment Tribunal
Because we have achieved our initial target of £5,000 on time thanks to the generosity of over 150 backers, we have been able to engage ours solicitors to develop our claim, which has now been sent to the Employment Tribunal. We need to continue fundraising for the next steps.
June 3, 2018
A quarter of the target already achieved!!
Thank you everyone for all the support! In just five hours from launched we achieved a quarter of the target!!
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