A U.K. employment tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a "philosophical belief" that should be legally protected in the same way as a religion.
The ruling, confirmed to CNBC Friday by lawyers acting on the case, means ethical vegans in the U.K. will be protected from discrimination by law.
While all vegans eat a plant-based diet, ethical vegans avoid all forms of animal exploitation, such as products made from wool or those tested on animals.
Friday's ruling related to a case brought by Jordi Casamitjana, who describes himself as an ethical vegan and claimed he was unfairly dismissed from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) for adhering to his beliefs.
Casamitjana alleged he was fired in 2018 after disclosing the organization's investment of its pension funds into companies that experiment on animals. However, in a statement to Sky News on Thursday, the LACS — an animal welfare charity dedicated to the eradication of sports such as hunting — claimed Casamitjana was sacked for "gross misconduct."
In order for ethical veganism to be protected under the U.K.'s Equality Act, it needed to satisfy a series of criteria proving it could be classified as a "philosophical or religious belief."
Those criteria require a belief to be acceptable in a democratic society and to not conflict with the fundamental rights of others. Political beliefs are not eligible for protection under the Equality Act.
Casamitjana, who avoids taking buses as they may accidentally hit a bird or insect, also had to prove his views as an ethical vegan were genuinely held.
In an emailed statement, Peter Daly, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represented Casamitjana, said the case would now move on to consider Casamitjana's dismissal by the LACS.
"The recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services," he said.
Meanwhile, Casamitjana said in a statement that the judge "clearly understood what ethical veganism is."
"Many people have supported me because they, or their friends, have experienced discrimination for being ethical vegans," he claimed. "Better protection means more vegans will be able to be open about their beliefs."
Casamitjana raised £8,710 ($11,386) through crowdfunding to help pay for his legal fees.