Christian wins 'cross' legal battle
A British Airways employee who claimed she suffered discrimination at work because of her faith has won a landmark legal battle at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Nadia Eweida, 60, took the airline to a tribunal after she was forced out of her job for wearing a cross in breach of company uniform codes.
Her case was rejected in Britain, but European judges found in her favour. They ruled against three more Christians who launched similar action.
Miss Eweida, from Twickenham, south-west London, was sent home in September 2006 for displaying a small silver cross on a chain around her neck which she wore as a personal expression of her faith. She took British Airways to a tribunal but a panel rejected her claims and ruled she was not a victim of 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.
At the ECHR, Miss Eweida argued BA's action contravened articles nine and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibit religious discrimination and allow "freedom of thought, conscience and religion". Lawyers for the Government, which contested the claim, argued her rights were only protected in private. But judges ruled there had been a violation of article nine (freedom of religion), by five votes to two.
They 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.
The judgment, published in Strasbourg, 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 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 British Government was ordered to pay Miss Eweida 2,000 euro (£1,600) in damages and 30,000 euro (£25,000) to cover costs.
Miss Eweida said she was "jumping for joy" at the decision but that she was disappointed for the other three applicants. Speaking outside her lawyer's chambers in central London, she said: "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 judgment, that I have suffered anxiety, frustration and distress."
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the ruling on Twitter. He wrote: "Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld - ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs."