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Woman wins landmark court battle to wear a cross at work
Despite the victory, one analyst says the dismissal of three similar cases points to an increase in employers' discretionary powers in future court rulings.
- United Kingdom
- January 16, 2013
A British Airways employee suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled.
Nadia Eweida took her case to the ECHR after BA made her stop wearing her white gold cross visibly.
The court said BA had not struck a fair balance between Ms Eweida's religious beliefs and the company's wish to "project a certain corporate image".
It ruled the rights of three others had not been violated by their employers.
But they said Ms Eweida's rights had been violated under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The four Christians had brought cases against the UK government for not protecting their rights but ministers, who contested the claims, argued that the rights of the employees were only protected in private.
Ms Eweida, 60, a Coptic Christian from Twickenham in south-west London, told the BBC she was "jumping with joy" after the ruling, adding it had "not been an easy ride".
British Airways said its uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to "wear symbols of faith" and that she and other employees had been working under these arrangements for the last six years.
It said Ms Eweida did not attend work for a period of time in 2006 while an internal appeal was held into her refusal to remove her cross but she remained a British Airways employee.
The British government was ordered to pay Ms Eweida 2,000 euros (£1,600) in damages and 30,000 euros (£25,000) costs.
A tribunal decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in the UK before she took her case to the ECHR.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "delighted" that the "principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld", adding that people "shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs".
Although Nadia Eweida's victory shows that Christians can see wearing a cross at work as part of behaving in accordance with their religion, the court's decision was based on special circumstances - including the fact that a discreet cross would not have adversely affected British Airways' public image.
It's perhaps more significant that Shirley Chaplin's case was dismissed, along with those of Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele. Today's judgement sets the legal seal on years in which traditionalist Christians have tried, and failed, to defend their values against secular ones in British courts.
The message coming from Strasbourg is that although people are entitled to hold religious views, that right is severely limited in the workplace when it comes into conflict with the rights of other people. The judgement also hands considerable discretion to employers to set reasonable policies and then insist that employees follow them whatever their religious beliefs.
Source: BBC News