Miller v University of Bristol (2024)

At a glance

  • The Employment Tribunal (ET) held that anti-Zionist beliefs amount to a philosophical belief qualifying for protection under section 10 Equality Act 2010 (EqA).
  • A university professor was subject to direct discrimination and unfairly dismissed because of his protected beliefs.


Professor Miller (Miller) was employed by the University of Bristol (University) as Professor of Political Sociology from 2018 to 2021. Miller holds ‘anti-Zionist views’ and defines Zionism as ‘an ideology that asserts that a state for Jewish people ought to be established and maintained in the territory that formerly comprised the British Mandate of Palestine’. He believes Zionism is inherently racist, imperialist, and colonial. He also believes that Zionism is offensive to human dignity on that basis and opposes it because of this. Miller’s views and activities relating to Zionism were ‘well-known’ from the beginning of his employment at the University.

In February 2019, Miller delivered a lecture on Islamophobia, in which he asserted that Islamophobia in the United Kingdom is driven in part by Zionism. Following the lecture, on 19 March 2019, the Community Security Trust Charity (CST) sent a letter of complaint to the University in which it stated that it had received complaints from Jewish students who were ‘extremely upset by hearing and seeing what they felt to be an antisemitic lecture’.

A further complaint was made to the Vice Chancellor of the University on 4 April 2019 by both current and former students who were members of the Bristol Jewish Society. In their letter, the students highlighted what they believed to be examples of antisemitic and problematic language relating to comments made by Miller prior to commencing his employment with the University. The students called for disciplinary action to be taken against Miller.

The University’s initial response to the complaints on the lecture was to emphasise the importance of free speech, suggest that the lecture content might be reviewed, and dismiss the claims of antisemitism, saying that it had found no evidence of Miller expressing antisemitic views.

Following this, in July 2019, John Mann, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, sent a letter to the University, copying in various MPs, to express ‘deep and urgent concerns about an unacceptable set of circumstances relating to antisemitism at the University of Bristol’ and asking that the Chancellor ‘call in’ the complaints from the students and the CST. The same month, one of the students who had made the complaint on 4 April 2019, Ms Freedman, appealed the local stage determination of her complaint.

The University appointed an independent barrister, Ms McColgan KC, to investigate the initial complaint. Her investigation concluded that Miller’s actions did not constitute misconduct or violate the Equality Act 2010, his views did not express ‘hatred towards Jews’, and that there was no formal case to answer.

In February 2021, at an online free speech event, Miller spoke about being attacked for his views and he subsequently spoke to journalists about the issue. In response to this, the University received many more complaints, some urging the University to take disciplinary action against Miller.

A second investigation was conducted in which Ms McColgan KC again concluded there was no formal case to answer, however a separate internal investigation concluded that Miller’s comments could breach the University’s codes of conduct and policies. A disciplinary hearing was held, following which Miller was dismissed without notice for gross misconduct in October 2021. Miller appealed, but the appeal panel upheld the decision. Miller then initiated employment tribunal proceedings, bringing claims for direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal.


The ET found that:

  • Miller’s anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic under section 10 EqA;
  • in its decision to dismiss him and its subsequent rejection of his appeal, the University directly discriminated against Miller because of his philosophical belief, contrary to section 13 EqA;
  • Miller was unfairly dismissed because the University acted unreasonably in treating Miller’s conduct as a sufficient reason for dismissal, and the reason for dismissal was tainted by discrimination; and
  • Miller was wrongfully dismissed because the University dismissed him in breach of contract by failing to provide him with notice and pay notice pay.

The claim for indirect discrimination was withdrawn and Miller’s other claims for harassment and direct discrimination failed.

“The tribunal is aware that there are very strong opposing beliefs and opinions to those held and expressed by the claimant. However, as has been set out very clearly in the authorities, the paramount guiding principle in assessing any belief is that it is not for the court or tribunal to inquire into its validity”.

What does this mean for employers?

This case forms part of a continuing trend in the employment tribunals where a wide range of beliefs are being recognised as protected by the EqA.  There are very few beliefs which will fail the test of being  “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

This case also demonstrates the difficulty for employers when balancing conflicting protected characteristics and protecting both those affected by certain beliefs and those holding those beliefs from discrimination and harassment. Beliefs that may be considered offensive to others may nonetheless be protected under the EqA and employers must take care to be even-handed, including not bowing to pressure from stakeholders on either side of a debate.

Miller v University of Bristol (ET 1400780/2022)