Supporting a football team is not a philosophical belief, court says

An entrepreneur has lost an employment tribunal claim of discrimination after a judge ruled supporting a football team was not a philosophical belief.

In the Glasgow Courtcontractor Edward McClung has challenged energy construction company Doosan Babcock, alleging he was refused work because of his support of the Glasgow Rangers football team, despite his manager being a fan of the rival team Celtic.

McClung, who temporarily carried out contract work for Doosan Babcock through recruitment firm NRL from January to June 2019, filed a complaint with the Industrial Court alleging that his manager, Donald Ross, at Doosan Babcock failed him. not offered any other employment due to his support of the rival team. .

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While working for the organization, McClung also alleged that a colleague told him he was “exceptionally good for a Rangers fan”.

McClung’s original wrongful dismissal complaint was struck out at a previous hearing because the request was contradictory to the fact that he was self-employed and that he had less than two years of qualifying service, a condition required to submit such a request.

At McClung’s final hearing in June 2022, the judge focused on whether supporting Rangers was a philosophical belief, as McClung tried to prove football fandom was “an important part of his life”.

McClung told the court that he lived his life “in agreement with being a Rangers fan”, and went on to say that his support for Rangers was a philosophical belief, as he reportedly said: “I’m not going to Not in church. I go to the Rangers. It’s a belief for me.

The court heard McClung subscribed to Sky Sports and watched pre- and post-match matches and interviews, listened to podcasts and never missed a game.

He described being a fan as setting an example for others by striving to be the best, giving respect, commitment, spending money and time to travel to see games, as well than by creating memories, for example, with him and his father, and with him and his son.

McClung also presented evidence that supporting Rangers was a way of life – it kept him going, gave him motivation to work so he could attend games, be charitable, support the team and be positive .

In order to determine whether his football fandom was a philosophical belief and classified as a protected characteristic, the belief had to pass “the Grainger test”. The test prescribes that the belief must adhere to five conditions to be admissible: it must be sincerely held; it must be a belief and not an opinion or point of view based on the current state of available information; it must be a belief in some important and substantial aspect of human life and behavior; it must reach a certain level of strength, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society (not incompatible with human dignity and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others).

Given this, the court concluded that McClung’s support for Rangers did not meet the second, third, fourth or fifth criteria.

While Labor Judge Lucy Wiseman acknowledged McClung’s evidence that buying a ticket to a game, enjoying pre-game prep, waking up “buzzing” on game days and singing songs at games meant a lot for him, “these are all personal matters for the applicant: they are subjectively important”, she explained.

“These are things which the applicant, and no doubt millions of other sports fans, derive pleasure from, but they do not represent a belief as to any important or substantial aspect of human life and have no greater consequences for humanity as a whole,” she added.

Wiseman explained that “what is necessary to meet this criterion is that the matter be of great gravity and importance, which influences decisions and behavior (e.g. national independence, gender beliefs and ethical veganism).

Therefore, the judge held that a belief in supporting Rangers could not qualify as a philosophical belief, with Wiseman stating: “Supporting Rangers has no greater consequences for humanity as a whole, nothing underpinning it beyond a desire for the team to do well/win and no impact on how people live their lives.”

In fact, she said McClung’s support for Rangers was more likely “a lifestyle choice” or “akin to political party support” and it has been established in previous cases that a particular political affiliation “does not constitute a philosophical belief”.

Commenting on the court case, Kate Palmer, director of advice and human resources advice at Peninsula, said: “There has been a long list of claims for protection under the argument of philosophical belief – veganism ethics, spiritualism, Scottish independence and the belief in never lying are all considered philosophical beliefs, but the Employment Tribunal found that being a Rangers fan was not.

At the same time, she indicated that the best practice employers can follow is to “ensure that they treat all employees equally, regardless of their personal characteristics, in order to avoid the risk of claims before courts”.

By valuing equality and inclusion in the workplace, Palmer added, “it always leads to increased motivation and productivity among employees, as well as long-term retention.”

Irfan Allana, a partner on Linklaters’ employment and incentives team and diversity faculty, pointed out that Maya Forstater v. in the workplace, it has not changed the strict criteria that must be met for a belief to be protected”.

“While Mr McClung gave a powerful account of his passion for football and the pivotal role it played in his life, he was unable to convince the court that being a football fan was a belief system relating to an important and substantial aspect of human life and behavior and was therefore protected by the Equality Act 2010,” he added.

McClung could not be reached for comment.

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