However, recently an employee, Mr Eddie McClung, argued that he had been treated less favorably by his employers, Doosan Babcock Ltd and NRL Ltd, due to his diligent support of Rangers FC, and sought compensation in result.
Mr McClung explained that he had been a Rangers fan for 42 years and spent most of his excess income on games. He attended at least two home games a month and felt that it got him out of bed with a “spring in his step”. He was a member of a club and supported their charities. He subscribed to Sky Sports to watch all their matches and match interviews, and he tuned into their podcasts. He was also a strong supporter of monarchy and unionism and he argued that these were traits commonly shared by Rangers fans. He believed his support for Rangers was a “way of life” and viewed it as a religion.
The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination in the workplace on the basis of their ‘religious or philosophical’ beliefs. To qualify as a ‘belief’ under the Equality Act it must be genuinely held, more than a mere opinion, to relate to some important and substantial aspect of human life; achieve a level of strength, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worthy of respect in a democratic society, without infringing on the fundamental rights of others.
This is not the first time the labor court has considered whether a modern lifestyle practice amounts to a “belief” within the meaning of the law.
In 2020, it was determined that ethical veganism could meet these criteria because it concerns an important and substantial aspect of human life and has a coherent and convincing doctrine.
On the other hand, “vegetarianism” did not constitute a philosophical belief, as the reasons behind the lifestyle were too broad.
In Mr. McClung’s case, the judge had no doubt that he was a dedicated supporter. However, it was recognized that there is a difference between ‘support’ and ‘belief’.
While a football team fan may be “actively interested and concerned about the success” of his team, this is not the same as believing that something “exists or is true”, nor does it Nor does it have an impact on a large group. or substantial aspect of human life.
The judge noted that Rangers FC saw themselves as a club for ‘everyone and anyone’ and being a supporter of the Monarchy, Union or a member of a religious sect was not a prerequisite to be a fan.
Additionally, the reasons and how fans chose to support Rangers varied widely. The judge therefore determined that Mr McClung’s conviction did not fall within the scope of the Equality Act.
The result is not surprising. A contrary conclusion would have potentially opened the floodgates to a wide range of complaints from fans and supporters across a range of media.
Generally, beliefs related to organized religion, gender and national governance would have a better chance of success in bringing this type of complaint to the Labor Court, as they are much more likely to meet the required criteria.
However, for now, only the taboo of discrimination in football will remain on the bench.
Anita Mulholland is a partner in the Employment Law team at Addleshaw Goddard