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Neil Davey

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British Airways employee contests cross ban ruling

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A British Airways check-in clerk suspended for wearing a crucifix at work is appealing against a ruling that cleared the airline of religious discrimination, claiming she has a right to equality and respect for her individual beliefs under the Human Rights Act.

Nadia Eweida, who is aged 58 and from Twickenham, wants the Court of Appeal in London to overturn the decision taken by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in favour of BA in November 2008 and is suing her employer for about £120,000 in damages and lost wages.

The Pentecostal Christian was sent home in September 2006 for refusing to back down over wearing a silver cross that was visible to customers, but she was unpaid during her five-month absence. Her stance was in violation of BA’s uniform code on jewellery, which has since been modified.

The Court of Appeal heard, however, that the dress code did not at the time distinguish between necklaces worn as a ‘manifestation of belief’ and those worn for cosmetic reasons. Therefore, it did not accommodate Eweida’s personal beliefs.

Eweida’s counsel Karon Monaghan QC said that the situation occurred despite the fact that the beliefs of other religious groups such as Muslims and Sikhs were catered to by BA as they were allowed to wear hijabs and religious kara bangles respectively.

Monaghan believes that the central issue of the appeal is weather the Tribunal correctly addressed the issue of "particular disadvantage". She cited Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations, which she claimed respected "highly personal and individual" religious beliefs and practices.

"The position otherwise would be that the more marginal one’s genuinely held religious belief, the smaller the minority of persons sharing that view, the less protection would be afforded by the regulations," Monaghan explained.

Such a situation, she believes, would be "inconsistent" with the "fundamental principles of equality and respect for religious belief underpinning the directive and found in Article 9".

But Ingrid Simler QC, counsel for BA, replied that the Tribunal was right to dismiss Edwida’s claim because she had argued that she – and other Christians – were disadvantaged by the uniform policy.

This had meant she needed to prove that at least some other Christians were disadvantaged, even though there was no evidence to suggest that Christians considered it a faith requirement to visibly wear a cross.

The judges reserved their decision until a later unspecified date. But Darren Sherborne, head of employment and a partner at Rickerby’s law firm, told Personneltoday.com that the situation served as a stark reminder to employers to use discretion when applying workplace dress codes and not to lose sight of "what’s important".

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Neil Davey

Senior Content Manager

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