international employment law firm alliance L&E Global
United Kingdom

UK: Religion & Belief Discrimination: An anti-Zionist university academic has brought a successful claim for philosophical belief discrimination

Authors: Heidi Watson, Ruth Bonino, Corinna Harris and Sophie Jackson

Dr. Miller, who was an academic at Bristol University, believes political Zionism is inherently racist, imperialistic and colonial, and therefore that political Zionism should be opposed. After several complaints were made about the expression of his views both in a lecture in February 2019, in articles published in October 2020 and February 2021 and at an event in February 2021, and following a disciplinary process, he was dismissed. He brought claims for unfair dismissal and philosophical belief discrimination.

Discrimination can be justified if the employer can show it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. The University argued that Dr Miller’s belief was incompatible with the rights of others and dismissing him was a proportionate response to applying its aims which were necessary to balance the rights of others and to protect its reputation. Although the tribunal accepted that these were legitimate aims, it found that the dismissal was disproportionate and a lesser sanction – a disciplinary sanction short of dismissal – could have been applied to achieve those aims.

The tribunal found that his opposition to Zionism was a protected belief under the Equality Act.

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-House Counsel

The tribunal took the view that, as an academic institution, the University ought to be prepared to face and deal with criticism and reputational damage which resulted from its academics’ exercise of the right to think and speak freely and lawfully on areas within or connected to their research and expertise. The tribunal’s position may have been a different if the employer was not an academic institution.

Miller v University of Bristol