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Philosophical Belief Discrimination

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Thanks to Jennifer Danvers of Cloisters for preparing this case summary.

Does an accusation made as part of a heated conversation that a letter written by the Claimant was “too left-wing” amount to harassment related to belief?

Not necessarily, held the EAT in Henderson v GMB.

At first instance the employment tribunal held that Mr Henderson had been fairly dismissed for gross misconduct, but that he had suffered direct discrimination and harassment on the basis of his “left-wing democratic socialist beliefs” for which he was awarded compensation for injury to feelings. Both parties appealed.

In a detailed and carefully worded judgment that touches on many interesting aspects of discrimination complaints based on philosophical belief, Simler J upheld GMB’s appeal and dismissed the appeals of Mr Henderson.

The following points are of particular importance:

• Simler J rejected any suggestion that philosophical belief should be given less protection than religious belief.

• The awareness of alleged discriminators that a Claimant was manifesting a protected belief, will be key, so as to avoid the trap of conflating the “respondent’s reasons for treating the Claimant as it did with [the Claimant’s] reasons for acting as he did”.

• So as to avoid trivial acts being caught by the concept of harassment, context and seriousness must be carefully considered, particularly where there is a single incident.

Simler J did not consider it necessary to decide the interesting point of whether there is a distinction between direct discrimination based on how a belief is manifested and treatment based on the belief itself.