BA Employee Nadia Eweida Wins Cross Case

Nadia Eweida – who claimed she suffered religious discrimination at work – has won a landmark legal battle at a European court.

But three other Christian claimants, who launched similar action, lost their cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Miss Eweida, 60, took British Airways to the ECHR after she was banned from wearing a small silver cross around her neck in 2006 in breach of company uniform codes.

She said she was “jumping for joy” and saying “thank you Jesus” after the ruling but was disappointed for the other three applicants.

“I’m very happy and very pleased that Christian rights have been vindicated in the UK and Europe.

“I’m very pleased that after all this time the European court has specifically recognised, in paragraph 114 in the judgement, that I have suffered anxiety, frustration and distress.”

An employment tribunal in Britain had ruled the Coptic Christian, who lives in south-west London but is originally from Egypt, did not suffer religious discrimination.

The decision was upheld by The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court before Miss Eweida took her fight to the ECHR.

She returned to work in customer services at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 in February 2007, after BA changed its uniform policy on visible items of jewellery.

Judges today ruled there had been a violation of article nine (freedom of religion), by five votes to two.

They found a fair balance was not struck between Miss Eweida’s desire to demonstrate her religious belief and BA’s wish to “project a certain corporate image”.

It found the airline’s aim was “undoubtedly legitimate” but said domestic courts accorded it “too much weight”.

It concluded: “Ms Eweida’s cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance.

“There was no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorised, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees had any negative impact on British Airways’ brand or image.

“The court therefore concludes that, in these circumstances 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.”

Judges rejected the cases of nurse Shirley Chaplin, 57, who was switched to a desk job after she also refused to remove a crucifix which she wore with her uniform.

Marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, 51, who was sacked for saying he might object to offering sex therapy to homosexuals, and registrar Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined when she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, also lost their legal action.

All three plan to appeal the decision.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: “Today’s judgment is an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense.

“Nadia Eweida wasn’t hurting anyone and was perfectly capable of doing her job whilst wearing a small cross.

“British courts lost their way in her case and Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance.

“However the Court was also right to uphold judgements in other cases that employers can expect staff not to discriminate in the discharge of duties at work.”