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Christian employee wins case in European Court of Human Rights

11th February, 2013

The European Court of Human Rights (“ECHR”) has ruled that a Christian employee suffered discrimination at work over her Christian beliefs. Nadia Eweida took her case against her employer, British Airways, to the European Court of Human Rights after she was made to hide her cross whilst at work. It was ruled that her rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, had also been violated.

The ECHR ruled that the rights of three other Christians had not been violated by their employers. After losing their cases in the Employment Tribunal, the four individuals made individual applications to the ECHR and their cases were joined together as combined appeals. The three unsuccessful individuals were Nurse Shirley Chaplin, whose employer stopped her wearing a cross for health and safety reasons, Gary McFarlane, a marriage counsellor who was dismissed for gross misconduct after saying he may object to providing sex therapy advice to homosexual couples and Lilian Ladele, a registrar who was disciplined after she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

They had claimed that their rights under Article 9 and also Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits religious discrimination, had been violated. However, the ECHR found in favour of their employers; that there had been no violation of their rights.

Following the decision, the Archbishop of York remarked that the Equality Act 2010 “encourages employers to embrace diversity- including people of faith….whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule”. British Airways said that it changed its uniform policy in 2007 to allow its employees to “wear symbols of faith” and that Ms Eweida and other employees have been working in accordance with these policy changes for the last six years.

This judgment demonstrates the awareness employers must have with regards to the right of their employees to manifest a religious belief. Our specialist employment solicitors are able to advise you in relation to the procedures and policies which should be adhered to in your business in order to minimise the risk of facing claims of religious discrimination.

For further advice or information in relation to cases of religious discrimination, please contact Helen Watson by sending an email to [email protected] or via telephone on 01244 405565.

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