Discrimination: Belief in sanctity of copyright was not a protected philosophical belief

Did an employee’s dismissal for asserting her moral right to the copyright in her own creative works amount to discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 on the grounds of philosophical belief?

No, held the Court of Appeal in Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Limited.

Legal principles

The Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) prohibits discrimination in the workplace because of religion or belief. The term “belief” means “any religious or philosophical belief”. Views should only be considered a philosophical belief if they have “sufficient cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and are worthy of respect in a democratic society”

In the following case, the Claimant was dismissed because she refused to assign copyright in any works she created during her employment to her employer. The issue in that case was whether her dismissal amounted to discrimination on  grounds of her belief in the moral right to own the copyright to her own creative works.

Facts

When she started work at Mulberry, the Claimant was asked to sign an agreement that the company would own the intellectual property in any work she created while employed by them. She refused, saying that the agreement would interfere with work she did in her own time as a writer and filmmaker. Mulberry offered to adjust the wording so that it only covered work carried out in relation to its business. The Claimant still refused to sign the agreement and was dismissed.

Claim

The Claimant brought a tribunal claim that she had been discriminated against because of her philosophical belief in the sanctity of copyright and that people should own and profit from their own work.

ET

The ET (with whom the Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed) dismissed the Claimant’s claim saying that the Claimant’s ‘belief’ could not form any cogent philosophical belief and therefore was ineligible for protection under the EqA 2010.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal reached the same conclusion as the tribunal and EAT but by a different route. It ruled that it was irrelevant in this case whether or not the Claimant’s belief amounted to a philosophical belief because on the facts there was no connection between her asserted belief and the dismissal. What led to the Claimant’s refusal to sign the copyright agreement and therefore her dismissal was her concern that the agreement leaned too far in the employer’s favour or failed to sufficiently protect her own interests. The Court of Appeal ruled that disputes about the interpretation of an agreement could not amount to a philosophical belief under the EqA 2010.

Gray v Mulberry Company (Design) Ltd

Comment

Although “philosophical belief” has a wide meaning, to be capable of protection a belief must attain a ‘certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance’.

Although previous rulings have decided that humanism, atheism and pacifism are capable of protection, a belief in vegetarianism does not and nor, apparently, does the sanctity of copyright.

Warning: this news item is not a substitute for legal advice. The information may be incorrect or out of date and does not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law. This news item is not intended to constitute legal advice in any specific situation. Readers should obtain legal advice and not rely on the information in this article.