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21st January 2013

British Airways employee wins religious discrimination case

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Nadia Eweida, a member of check in staff for British Airways (BA), has won a landmark legal battle over the right to wear a cross at work.

On 15 January 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) overturned decisions reached at Employment Tribunals, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court and found that Ms Eweida had been discriminated against by her employer under freedom of religion laws.

British Airways had suspended Ms Eweida without pay in September 2006 for wearing a small cross around her neck. They claimed Ms Eweida’s wearing of the cross violated BA’s uniform code which prevents employees from wearing visible jewellery in order to maintain a ‘certain corporate image.’

The ECHR considered that Ms Eweida’s behaviour was a manifestation of her religious belief in the form of worship practice and observance. It was held that BA’s refusal to allow Ms Eweida to remain in her post whilst visibly wearing the cross violated Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which allows for freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The ECHR held that whilst BA’s desire to project a particular corporate image was without doubt a legitimate one, there was no evidence that other employees wearing authorised religious clothing such as turbans and hijabs had any negative impact on BA’s corporate image. As there was no encroachment on the rights of other employees to wear religious clothing, the ECHR held that BA had failed to sufficiently protect Ms Eweida’s right to manifest her religion.

Ms Eweida was awarded 2,000 Euros in compensation and a further 30,000 Euros in costs.

For more information please contact our Employment team on 01604 233233.