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Case law: Opposition to political correctness is not a ‘belief’ protected by anti-discrimination laws

An employee who claimed his dismissal was because he opposed political correctness (PC) which caused him to fall out with his more PC colleagues, could not claim that his view was a ‘belief’ under discrimination laws meaning his dismissal was discriminatory, an Employment Tribunal has ruled.

March 2019

This update was published in Legal Alert - March 2019

Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.

A university lecturer in social policy created a Twitter account to promote a book he had written. A third party tweeted that the lecturer was a ‘Tory bigot’ on grounds his views were politically incorrect (‘non-PC’). Certain of the lecturer’s colleagues then tweeted in support of the third party’s tweet. The lecturer complained to his line manager about their behaviour.

An internal investigation found there had been (and continued to be) personal clashes and disagreements between the lecturer and various colleagues over time, based on his opposition to what he perceived as their politically correct views, and their opposition to what they perceived as his non-PC views. Both sides had breached the university’s ‘respect’ policy. He was disciplined several times and then dismissed.

There is unlawful direct discrimination if an employer treats an employee less favourably because they have a ‘protected characteristic’. The list of protected characteristics includes an employee’s ‘beliefs’ - which includes religious or philosophical beliefs, and even a lack of belief. However, to be protected a belief must usually govern or affect how the employee lives their life or their life choices, ie, it must be a profound belief.

The lecturer claimed his opposition to political correctness amounted to a ‘belief’ for the purposes of discrimination law, and that he had been dismissed because of that belief and hounded out of his job for being non-PC. His dismissal was therefore unfair. He argued that the fact his colleagues had breached the respect policy was enough evidence to show this.

The Employment Tribunal ruled against him finding that opposing political correctness was not a ‘belief’ protected by anti-discrimination law. Therefore, there had been no unlawful discrimination against him.

Operative date

  • Now

Recommendation

  • Employers should ensure that where there are clashes between employees around issues linked to political correctness, they are aware of a ruling clarifying that opposing political correctness is not a ‘belief’ under anti-discrimination laws. This means if an employer is dismissed or disciplined in some other way because of those clashes, it is not unlawful discrimination on grounds of ‘belief’.

Case ref: Unreported

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