A recent tribunal which saw a teacher compare Jews to Star Trek’s Vulcans — and attempt to pass off his associated anti-Semitic conspiracy theory as a “philosophical belief” — reminds WaitroseLaw of some other memorable employment law moments
Eagle-eyed — or pointy-eared — readers may have noticed reports of a curious employment tribunal case last week involving a primary school teacher who tried to claim that his anti-Jewish conspiracy theory was a protected “philosophical belief”, and that his dismissal was therefore unlawful discrimination.
Mr Arya, who taught at a primary school in Waltham Forest, claimed that a “jocular” text message referring to “the master race….oops sorry the chosen people” couldn’t have offended anyone rational and drew an analogy between Jews and Star Trek’s Vulcans. He accused Jewish people of “messing with his head” and suggested that they may be able to send messages back in time (although, as any halfway-sensible Vulcan could tell you, sending messages back in time would only mess with the time-space continuum and create of chain of events with impossible-to-predict consequences, which would be thoroughly illogical).
Although the tribunal rejected his argument, Mr Arya is by no means the first person to try to argue that fringe views are protected under discrimination law. A wise man once observed that “all men are lunatics but he who can analyse his delusion is called a philosopher” — a remark which claimant lawyers seem to have seized upon enthusiastically.
Connoisseurs of eccentricity might enjoy this case decided two years ago where the claimant also argued that he had been unfairly dismissed on the grounds of his beliefs. In this instance, the claimant believed that the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks were the result of a conspiracy between the UK and US governments and the Freemasons seeking to establish a new world order, introduce a secret satanic ideology and create a global fascist government.
Possibly his views would have been received with no more than a raised eyebrow in the wilder corners of the internet. Unfortunately, though, they were pretty difficult to reconcile with the claimant’s role as an intelligence analyst for the South Yorkshire Police. His arguments might have got a more sympathetic hearing had he not claimed that Lady Justice Hallett (who conducted the 7/7 inquest) was also part of the conspiracy. As it was, the tribunal derided his “bootstrapping logic, so often a feature of conspiracy theories of all types”, and rejected his argument.
Police work seems to attract people with unusual views. A few years before the South Yorkshire case, a police trainer had been fired after only three weeks’ work, partly because he worked as a psychic. He successfully argued that a belief in the ability of mediums to contact the dead was a protected belief. (Indeed, given how much trouble the police have got into for undercover surveillance recently, maybe they ought to revisit the low-tech option.)
Similarly, beliefs in the need to protect the environment, the immorality of fox-hunting and the higher purpose of public service broadcasting have all been held to be protected. A test case on the ethical superiority of farmers’ markets is rumoured to be imminent.
This illustrious company may be of little comfort to Mr Arya, whose claim for unfair dismissal will be heard in September. On the face of it, the claim looks like something of an uphill struggle — it wouldn’t be difficult for a school to justify firing someone with such extreme views. No word yet on whether the tribunal will be giving judgment in person or just by mind-meld.
WaitroseLaw is a lawyer with luscious organic selection, impeccable ethics and dinner party skills. Not affiliated with/authorised by Waitrose.