In a recent case that may be of note to those of us who avidly tune in to watch our beloved football clubs of choice (as a Manchester United fan who was been subject to the last 10 years of decline, I use the term “beloved” loosely), the employment tribunal found that support for a football club does not amount to a protected philosophical belief under section 10(2) of the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010). As such, potential claimants would be unable to rely upon this support for the purposes of claiming discrimination under the EA 2010.
McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd
The decision was made in preliminary hearing where the tribunal had to decide if the claimant’s support for Glasgow Rangers FC would fall under s.10 EA 2010.
The tribunal considered the test for what qualified as a philosophical belief, following Grainger Plc v Nicholson. Under this test, the tribunal was to address the following five criteria:
1) Was the belief genuinely held?
The claimant had been a supporter of Rangers since childhood. He attended games with family, was a member of the club, received a birthday card from them and believed his support to be as important to him as it was for religious people to go to Church.
This point was not disputed by the respondent and the tribunal agreed that the claimant was an “avid” and “devoted” fan.
2) Did the claimant hold a belief, as opposed to an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available?
On this point, the tribunal referred to the Explanatory Notes to the EA 2010, which stated:
“…beliefs such as humanism and atheism would be beliefs for the purposes of this provision, but adherence to a particular football team would not be”.
Whilst the claimant had argued the law have moved on since this statement, the tribunal referred to McEleny v Ministry of Defence, where it was held that the support for a political party, in this case the Scottish National Party, would not qualify as a protected belief. However, belief in Scottish Independence would meet the required standard. The tribunal was of the opinion that support for a football club was akin to that of support of a political party rather than a belief.
3) Was it a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour?
The tribunal clarified that in order to satisfy this requirement, it must be demonstrated that the matter is one of “great seriousness and importance which influences decisions and behaviour”.
The claimant asserted that his support of Rangers led to him buying tickets for games, enjoying match days and participating in singing of songs at matches. Nevertheless, the tribunal did not consider these actions to satisfy the requirement, as the claimant’s support was similar to that of a lifestyle choice, rather than a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
4) Did the belief attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance?
The claimant’s evident support and, more specifically, acts of support of Rangers were clearly serious and important matters. The claimant also cited evidence as to the strong support for the UK Union, the Queen and Protestant Christian beliefs held by many Rangers fans. However, the tribunal held that these were “not prerequisites for being a supporter of Rangers”.
The court drew a parallel with Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd and others, a case in which it was held that an employee’s belief that people should pay their respects by wearing a poppy from 2 November to Remembrance Sunday was not a protected belief.
As such, the claimant’s support for Rangers lacked the requisite characteristics to satisfy this requirement.
5) Was the belief worthy of respect in a democratic society, was not incompatible with human dignity and did not conflict with fundamental rights of others?
Lastly, the tribunal acknowledged that the claimant’s support of Rangers was worthy of respect. In spite of this, the tribunal could not equate this support to matters such as ethical veganism (Casamitjana Costa v League Against Cruel Sports) or governance of a country.
Section 10 Equality Act 2010 and Grainger
As an extension to McEleny, this decision has assisted in further providing guidance on a definition of “philosophical beliefs” under s.10 EA 2010. Whilst not having a clear, unequivocal definition under EA 2010, the Grainger test provides us with a framework in deciding what constitutes a “philosophical belief” in discrimination claims.
Ultimately, this led the tribunal to the judgment that the claimant’s support for Rangers was not a protected philosophical belief under s.10(2) EA 2010, for the purpose of being relied upon as a protected characteristic in this discrimination claim.
As a result of the non-satisfaction of the Grainger test, the preliminary issue was decided in favour of the respondents and the claimant could not proceed with the discrimination claim.
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