BA Employee Wins Religious Discrimination Case
Nadia Eweida, a staunch Christian who claimed she suffered religious discrimination whilst working for British Airways, has won a landmark legal battle at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Miss Eweida was sent home from work for wearing a small silver cross around her neck in 2006, which was considered to be a breach of British Airway uniform policy.
Miss Eweida and three other Christian claimants brought cases against the UK Government for not protecting their employment rights.
Judges at the ECHR rules that Miss Eweida’s rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but the other claimants were not successful.
The four claimants had made individual applications to the ECHR after their respective employment tribunals found against them, but their cases were heard together. Their argument was that the employers’ actions were contrary to Articles 9 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibited religious discrimination and protected their rights to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
Miss Eweida said she was “jumping for joy” after the ruling, and said that “Christian rights have been vindicated in the UK and Europe.”
Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn’t suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs.”
In respect of Miss Eweida, the court found that a fair balance had not been struck between her wish to demonstrate her faith and British Airways policy of projecting a corporate image. The court concluded that “where there is no evidence of any real encroachment on the interests of others, the domestic authorities failed sufficiently to protect the first applicant’s right to manifest her religion.”
With regard to the three other applicants whose claims failed at the ECHR:
Lillian Ladele was a Registrar for Islington Council, North London, who did not want to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies on the grounds that it offended her Christian beliefs. She was disciplined by the Council, and the ECHR decided that the disciplinary action was “legitimate” given that the Council was obliged to the consider the rights of same-sex couples.
Marriage Counsellor Gary McFarlane was sacked for gross misconduct after saying he might object to offering sex therapy to homosexuals. The ECHR judgment said that Mr McFarlane could not expect Relate’s clients to be divided up on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Shirley Chaplin, a nurse in Exeter, was transferred to a desk job by Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital after she refused to remove a small crucifix on a chain around her neck for health and safety reasons. European judges agreed that health and safety concerns in the workplace outweighed her religious rights.
All three applicants plan to appeal the ECHR ruling.
The Eweida case (along with the other applicants) would suggest that although individuals are of course entitled to hold religious beliefs, those rights will be limited in a workplace environment when said rights come into conflict with the rights (not necessarily religious) of other people.
At Do I Have A Case our team of employment law experts are available for a no-obligation, confidential discussion if you feel you have been discriminated against in the workplace – give us a call on 0800 014 8727.