Employment Tribunal Rules That Anti-Zionist Views Are a Protected Characteristic

by Priya Magar

13 February 2024

In Miller v University of Bristol ET/1400780/2022, an Employment Tribunal considered whether a professor had been directly discriminated against and unfairly dismissed because of his anti-Zionist views. For the Claimant’s claims to succeed, the Employment Tribunal first had to consider whether the Claimant’s views amounted to a philosophical belief and were therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

In 2019, the Claimant delivered a lecture on Islamophobia, in which he stated that Islamophobia was, in part, driven by the Zionist movement. As a result of this lecture, complaints were made by the Community Security Trust on behalf of two Jewish students who felt that the lecture was antisemitic and had left them extremely upset. A further complaint was then made by the Bristol Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students. The Respondent commissioned an investigation by a KC, which found that the comments made by the Claimant were not antisemitic and that they fell within the freedom of expression protections of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Respondent’s own investigation also concluded that the Claimant’s comments were not antisemitic.

In 2021, the Claimant spoke at a free speech event, in which he commented on his right to criticise the state of Israel. The Claimant then provided comments to a journalist in respect of an article they were publishing, in which he spoke about “attacks” by the Bristol Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students. As a result of this, the Respondent received numerous complaints about the Claimant’s behaviour and requests for him to be dismissed. A second independent investigation found that his comments were not antisemitic, but the Respondent’s own investigation found that he had breached their policies by commenting on his experiences with students and student societies and he was dismissed without notice on grounds of gross misconduct in October 2021. The Claimant appealed this decision, but it was rejected.

The Claimant subsequently brought claims for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, harassment, indirect discrimination (which was later withdrawn) and direct discrimination. The Claimant first had to show that he had a “belief”, which would amount a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. He would therefore need to satisfy the criteria set out in Grainger plc v Nicholson, which are that the belief must:

  • be genuinely held;
  •  be a belief and not an opinion based on the present state of information available;
  •  be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  •  be worthy of respect in a democratic society and not incompatible with human dignity and or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

The Tribunal held that:

  • The Claimant’s belief satisfied the Grainger criteria.
  • The Respondent’s decision to dismiss him (and reject his appeal) was due to his belief and they therefore directly discriminated against him. However, they held that his basic and compensatory awards were to be reduced by 50% because the dismissal was caused or contributed to by his actions.
  • The Respondent wrongfully dismissed him by not paying him for his notice.
  • The harassment claim was out of time.

The case is thought to be the first time that anti-Zionist views have been found to be protected in the workplace. This highlights the importance for employers to protect their staff who hold genuine beliefs regardless of whether they agree with them or not.

The Employment team at EMW are on hand to provide advice in respect of situations like this (see contact details below).

This article was written with the assistance of Jasper Blacklock.
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