Tim Nicholson: A green martyr

Sacked executive can argue he was discriminated against because of his belief in climate change, judge rules


An executive sacked from a giant property company can claim he was unfairly dismissed because of his "philosophical belief in climate change", a judge ruled yesterday.

In the first case of its kind, employment judge David Sneath said Tim Nicholson, a former environmental policy officer, could invoke employment law for protection from discrimination against him for his conviction that climate change was the world's most important environmental problem.

That conviction amounted to a philosophical belief under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations, 2003, the judge ruled on a point of law at a pre-hearing review of an employment tribunal in London.

Mr Nicholson, 41, had been head of sustainability at Grainger plc, Britain's biggest residential property investment company, until he was made redundant in July last year. He is now bringing a case for unfair dismissal, claiming that one of the reasons for his sacking was his strong belief about the importance of the environment – which put him at odds, he said, with other senior executives within the firm.

Grainger had good written policies both on the environment and corporate social responsibility, Mr Nicholson told the hearing – but there was a "mismatch" between the policies and the way in which the firm was managed. When he tried to get it to act in a more environmentally responsible way, he said, senior company executives obstructed him.

In a written statement submitted to the hearing, and then in oral evidence, Mr Nicholson listed a series of examples where, he said, Grainger's practices were very different from its proclaimed environmental stance. One of his jobs, he said, was to try to establish a carbon management strategy for the company – which had been listed as a target in the annual report and accounts. But when he tried to work out the firm's carbon footprint to implement it, senior staff from the human resources and financial departments refused him the necessary data.

Grainger's green policies would sometimes be shown to potential clients as part of a company package, he said, but the firm's executives would turn up at the meetings in "some of the most highly polluting cars on the road".

There was no control on how many flights people took, he said, so, "given the carbon intensity of flying", he raised his concerns with the company's chief executive, Rupert Dickinson, but never received a direct reply to his email. Eventually he was told by another member of staff that there would be no change to existing policy. In his written statement Mr Nicholson said: "He [Mr Dickinson] showed contempt for the need to cut carbon emissions by flying out a member of the IT staff to Ireland to deliver his BlackBerry that he had left behind in London."

Grainger had sought to have Mr Nicholson's attempt to use the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations struck out. Counsel for the company, Harry Trory, contended at length that Mr Nicholson's views on climate change and the environment were based on fact and science, and did not constitute a philosophical belief. But the judge found in favour of Mr Nicholson. "In my judgment, his belief goes beyond a mere opinion, he said,

Mr Nicholson told the hearing that his green beliefs affected how he lived his life, "including my choice of home, how I travel, what I buy, what I eat and drink, what I do with my waste and my hopes and my fears".

He said: "For example, I no longer travel by airplane. I have eco-renovated my home. I try to buy local produce. I have reduced my consumption of meat. I compost my food waste.

"I encourage others to reduce their carbon emissions and I fear very much for the future of the human race, given the failure to reduce carbon emissions on a global scale."

Aged 41, and married with a small son, Mr Nicholson now works for a green medical charity in Oxford. He said after the hearing: "I am pleased with the result, and I hope this sets a predecent that will support anyone who shares my views on climate change and the environment."

The full employment tribunal is now set to take place from 4 June. Grainger might consider an appeal against yesterday's ruling, Mr Trory said.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£17000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity is now ...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Recruitment Genius: European Sales Director - Aerospace Cable & Wire

£100000 - £125000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral