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Cross-wearing worker loses discrimination appeal

12 February 2010

A British Airways check-in assistant who claimed she was discriminated over the wearing of a small crucifix, has lost her case in the Court of Appeal.

Nadia Eweida argued the BA’s uniform policy, which banned the wearing of religious symbols, indirectly discriminated against Christians.

The Court of Appeal in Eweida v British Airways [2010] EWCA Civ 80 upheld the EAT’s findings that the wearing of a cross was merely a personal choice and not a religious requirement protected under anti-discrimination law.

Giving the court’s judgment, Lord Justice Sedley said: “Ms Eweida herself described it as a personal choice rather than as a religious requirement.”

The judge also noted that none of BA’s 30,000 workers had complained about the policy, which has since been updated its uniform policy to allow the wearing of small religious symbols.

He said “there was no reason whatever why the tribunal should infer that there were others whose religiously motivated choice, not of whether but of where they should wear a symbol of their faith, was of such importance to them that being unable to exercise it constituted a particular disadvantage”.

Sedley LJ also referred to EAT findings about Ms Eweida’s “readiness to make a serious accusation without thought of the implications”, “her insensitivity towards colleagues, her lack of empathy for those without a religious focus in their lives, and her incomprehension of the conflicting demands which professional management seeks to address and resolve on a near-daily basis”.

He added it was “regrettable that print and broadcast media have continued to publicise allegations made against BA by Ms Eweida (and not by her alone) which have been rejected by a responsible judicial tribunal”.

“This case has perhaps illustrated some of the problems which can arise when an individual (or equally a group) asserts that a provision, criterion or practice adopted by an employer conflicts with beliefs which they hold but which may not only not be shared but may be opposed by others in the workforce.

“It is not unthinkable that a blanket ban may sometimes be the only fair solution,” he concluded.

Corinna Ferguson, Liberty’s legal officer who represents Ms Eweida, said the ruling “will do little to build public confidence in equality laws protecting everyone”.

The organisation said it would appeal to the Supreme Court.

“This is just the sort of case that a Supreme Court is for and we have every hope that the highest court in the land will put Britain's long tradition of religious tolerance into modern legal practice,” Ferguson said.

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