Monday, September 16, 2002
Veganism Not a Religion, Court of Appeal Rules in Bias Case
By KENNETH OFGANG , Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Veganism is not a “religious creed” and its adherents are not protected from discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, this district’s Court of Appeal held Friday.
While FEHA protections are not limited to those who adhere to an organized religion, Presiding Justice Paul A. Turner explained for Div. Five, the statute does not protect those with sincerely held moral beliefs based on a purely secular philosophy.
The panel affirmed a ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian, who threw out Jerold Daniel Friedman’s suit against Southern California Permanente Medical Group and the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan with which it is affiliated.
Friedman alleged that he was discriminated against when Kaiser withdrew an offer of employment as a computer specialist at its pharmaceutical warehouse, based on his refusal to be inoculated against the mumps. The mumps vaccine is cooked in chicken embryos, Friedman said, and to take it would violate his stance as a Vegan who does not eat animals or food containing animal ingredients, does not wear clothing made from animals, and does not use household products derived from animals.
That stance is legally presumed to be sincere, Turner wrote Friday, but it is not based on religion.
“There is no apparent spiritual or otherworldly component to plaintiff’s beliefs,” the presiding justice, a churchgoing Baptist, wrote. “Rather, plaintiff alleges a moral and ethical creed limited to the single subject of highly valuing animal life and ordering one’s life based on that perspective. While veganism compels plaintiff to live in accord with strict dictates of behavior, it reflects a moral and secular, rather than religious, philosophy.”
The FEHA, the jurist explained, makes it unlawful for an employer or potential employer to, among other things, discriminate on the basis of religious creed. It is also unlawful to refuse to hire a person whose “religious belief or observance” would conflict with job requirements, unless it would cause “undue hardship” for the employer to make a reasonable accommodation of the employee’s beliefs.
The Fair Employment and Housing Commission, Turner noted, has defined “religious creed” to include “any traditionally recognized religion as well as beliefs, observations, or practices which an individual sincerely holds and which occupy in his or her life a place of importance parallel to that of traditionally recognized religions.”
Numerous state and federal courts, the jurist went on to say, have adopted the definition of religion set forth by then-Judge Arlin M. Adams of the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a pair of cases decided in 1979 and 1981.
A religion, Adams wrote, “addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters;” “is comprehensive in nature,” consisting “of a belief-system as opposed to an isolated teaching,” and “can be recognized by the presence of certain formal and external signs,” such as formal services, a clerical structure, holidays, and ceremonies.
Those formalities are not essential to the existence of a religion, Adams elaborated, but their existence of non-existence may help determine the question of whether a particular belief system is a religion if the answer is otherwise unclear.
Turner noted that Friedman had described veganism as based on “natural law,” rather than on a search for answers to what Adams called “fundamental and ultimate questions.” The plaintiff, the presiding justice pointed out, made “no claim that veganism speaks to: the meaning of human existence; the purpose of life; theories of humankind’s nature or its place in the universe; matters of human life and death; or the exercise of faith.”
In an unpublished portion of his opinion, Turner rejected Friedman’s claim that he is entitled to damages for Kaiser’s negligent or intentional wrongdoing in subjecting him to a tuberculosis test after he was erroneously told that it contained no animal products.
Any remedy he might be entitled to, Turner said, would have to come from the workers’ compensation system. Besides, the jurist wrote, his claims were untimely, since actions for personal torts, unlike FEHA claims, are subject to a one-year statute of limitations.
West Los Angeles attorney Scott D. Myer of the Myer Law Firm represented Friedman on appeal. F. Scott Page and Debbie L. Freedman of Seyfarth Shaw’s Century City office represented Kaiser.
The case is Friedman v. Southern California Permanente Medical Group, B150017.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company