Latest authority on Philosophical belief.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has dismissed an employee’s claim that she had been discriminated against by her employer on the grounds of a philosophical belief.

Ms Gray – who started working for Mulberry, the designer leather handbag retailer in January 2015, asserted that a belief in “the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output” amounted to a philosophical belief within the meaning of section 10(2) of the Equality Act 2010.

She was asked by her Employer to sign an agreement stipulating that the Company would own the rights to any work that she completed during her time with them.

Ms Gray refused to sign the document on the basis that she believed that by signing it, it would extend to work carried out in her own time as a writer and film-maker.

Mulberry agreed to amend the wording of the agreement to stipulate that the agreement would only relate to work carried out relating to their business. Notwithstanding this offer to compromise, Ms Gray still refused to sign the agreement on the basis that she considered the wording to be general and open to interpretation.

By September 2015 Ms Gray had still refused to sign the agreement and Mulberry decided to terminate her employment.

The resulted in Ms Gray issuing employment tribunal proceedings for both direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of belief.

The Employment Tribunal held that Mulberry’s requirement for employees to sign the agreement was a proportionate method of protecting their intellectual property and that Ms Gray’s belief was not eligible for protection under the Equality Act 2010. It said that ‘having a belief relating to an important aspect of human life or behaviour is not enough in itself for it to have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.’

It also held that Mulberry’s interests as a designer in seeking to protect its intellectual property were ‘correspondingly greater’ than the impact on Ms Gray’s interests in refusing to sign the document.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld this rationale.

In relation to the claim of indirect discrimination, the Employment Appeal Tribunal confirmed that the Employment Tribunal was also correct in its decision to find that group disadvantage had not been made out by Ms Gray. The sole adherent of a philosophical belief, who is unable to establish any group disadvantage, cannot succeed in a claim of indirect discrimination.

Ms A Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd: UKEAT/0040/17/DA

If you have concerns about discrimination in the workplace or are an Employer who wishes invest in good policies and procedures then contact Steven Eckett, Senior Associate and Head of Employment seckett@meaby.co.uk

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