Nadia Eweida, the British Airways (BA) employee who earlier this year lost her case at the Court of Appeal that she was the victim of religious discrimination because she was not allowed to wear a silver crucifix at work if the necklace were visible, has announced that she is taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights.
When the issue was first raised, BA’s uniform policy stated that personal jewellery and items worn for religious reasons could only be worn underneath the uniform. Where this was not practical, an item of religious apparel could be worn, provided management approval was obtained. Ms Eweida, a practising Christian, was suspended after she refused to conceal her cross when asked to do so as she regarded it as an important visible expression of her faith. Other members of staff were allowed to wear headscarves or turbans and she wanted to display a symbol of her faith.
Ms Eweida was reinstated after BA changed its uniform policy to allow staff to display a symbol of their faith. However, she was of the view that the airline had been guilty of having ‘rules for one minority group but not the other’ and brought a claim for direct and indirect discrimination and harassment, under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, as well as a claim for unlawful deduction of wages.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) rejected her claims. Miss Eweida appealed against the ET’s finding that she had not been subjected to indirect discrimination because BA had applied its standard uniform policy when asking her to remove the cross and this did not put Christians at a particular disadvantage compared with any other group. The Employment Appeal Tribunal and then the Court of Appeal dismissed her claim, holding that wearing a cross was a personal choice, not a mandatory requirement of her religion.
Miss Eweida was refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court but has decided to take her case to the ECHR because she has ‘exhausted all legal avenues in the UK’. She added that it is probable that she will have to wait for four to six months before she hears whether or not her case will be accepted for hearing by the Court.
For advice on drawing up a dress code policy that does not fall foul of discrimination law, contact Nicola Berry or Gary Lee.