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By Zoë Wigan, Hilary Larter and Ceri Fuller


Published 10 November 2023


An employment tribunal has found that an employee's opposition to critical race theory is a protected belief.

The facts

Mr Corby is employed by ACAS. At a preliminary hearing, an employment tribunal had to decide whether Mr Corby holds philosophical beliefs which are protected by discrimination legislation. 

Mr Corby described his philosophical beliefs on race and racial equality as being an opposition to critical theory and identity politics in general. Mr Corby prefers the approach where people are judged by the content of their character, rather than the colour of their skin. This approach, in his view, emphasises what people of all races have in common, namely their humanity and capacity to support a shared national culture. Mr Corby's evidence was that he believes that the 'woke' approach to racism is misconceived. He believes that critical race theory's structural approach to racism is divisive because it sees all white people as a problem, and this can result in separatism, segregation and ethnocentrism.

In relation to sex and feminism, Mr Corby said that he believes that it is unhelpful to view social problems through feminist eyes, such as the initial view of at least one feminist that high male suicide rates were unimportant.

Following established case law, the employment tribunal considered whether Mr Corby's beliefs met five criteria, which are that the belief:

  1. is genuinely held;
  2. is not merely an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  3. concerns a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  4. attains a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
  5. is worthy of respect in a democratic society, is not incompatible with human dignity and is not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

The tribunal held that Mr Corby's beliefs in relation to race met all these criteria. His beliefs were deeply held, consistent, logical and structured, they were carefully considered and they affected the way he lived his life.  His beliefs related, in essence, to the best way of eliminating racism in society and were clearly worth of respect.  Even if some of Mr Corby's colleagues objected to his beliefs, they could not be described as incompatible with human dignity or conflicting with the human rights of others.  His beliefs in relation to race were, therefore, protected beliefs.

In contrast, Mr Corby's views about sex/feminism did not meet the second criteria.  The tribunal considered that Mr Corby's belief related to a very narrow issue – comments made by one particular individual about male suicide.  He was not able to articulate more generally his views on sex and feminism.   The views to which he objected were not, in the tribunal's opinion, the views of feminists in general or a more generally held belief that male suicide is not important.  His beliefs about sex/feminism were not therefore protected. 

What does this mean for employers?

Recent case law about the protection of philosophical beliefs has been dominated by issues related to the manifestation of gender critical beliefs. This case is a reminder that other philosophical beliefs may also be protected under the Equality Act 2010 and employers should be careful not to discriminate against workers because they hold or express these beliefs in the workplace. The recent EAT guidance in the Higgs case ought to be borne in mind by employers before they take any disciplinary action.  

Mr S Corby -v- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service