Employment Tribunal – Supporting a football club does not amount to a protected philosophical belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010

James Williams

The Claimant, a Rangers Football Club supporter of 42 years was a member of the club and received birthday cards from the club. He believed supporting Rangers was as important to him as attending church is for religious people.

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment in the workplace in respect of religion, religious belief and philosophical belief. Religion or belief is one of the nine protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act 2010 (the others – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation).

“Religion or belief” is as follows within the Act:

  • “Religion” means any religion, and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.
  • “Belief” means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.

In a previous case (General Municipal and Boilermakers Union v Henderson UKEAT/0073/14) the Employment Appeal Tribunal held: “The Law does not accord special protection for one category of belief and less protection for another. All qualifying beliefs are equally protected. Philosophical beliefs may be just as fundamental or integral to a person’s individuality and daily life as are religious beliefs”.

The Employment Tribunal agreed the Claimant was a supporter of Rangers but being a supporter was not capable of being a protected philosophical belief. It also agreed that the Claimants belief was genuinely held however remaining criteria were not satisfied.

In the case Grainger Plc v Nicholson, the EAT gave guidance on the definition of a philosophical belief under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010. The EAT set out the following criteria for a philosophical belief:

  • The belief must be genuinely held. While it is not the tribunal’s function to assess the “validity” of a belief by some objective standard, evidence (including cross-examination) may be needed to establish that the belief is genuine.
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Although the first stage of the criteria was met; the Employment Tribunal concluded the remaining Grainer criteria were not satisfied for the following reasons:

  • The tribunal had regard to the explanatory notes to the Equality Act 2010 which provide that adherence to a football team would not be a belief capable of protection. The definition of “support” (being “actively interested in and concerned for the success of” a particular sports team) contrasted with the definition of “belief” (being “an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof”). The Claimants support for Rangers was akin to support for a political party, which case law had made clear does not constitute a protected philosophical belief.
  • Support for a football club is akin to a lifestyle choice. It did not represent a belief as to a weighty or substantial aspect of human life and had no larger consequences for humanity as a whole. There was a wide range of Rangers fans with varying reasons behind their support, shown in different ways.
  • There was nothing to suggest fans had to behave, or did behave, in a similar way. Support for the Union and loyalty to the Queen were not prerequisites of being a Rangers supporter as the Claimant had submitted. The only common factor was that fans wanted their team to do well. It therefore lacked the required characteristics of cogency, cohesion and importance.
  • Support for Rangers did not invoke the same respect in a democratic society as matters such as ethical veganism or the governance of a country, which have been the subject of academic research and commentary.

Source: EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNALS (SCOTLAND) (publishing.service.gov.uk)

James Williams – Solicitor

James Williams

I am a qualified Employment Law and HR Solicitor. I specialise in acting for schools and advise on all aspects of employment law and HR including attending employee meetings, advising senior leaders, conducting redundancy consultations, drafting contracts of employment, advising on policies and procedures and negotiating settlement agreements.