European Court finds British Airways discriminated against Christian employee

News
January 15, 2013

European Court finds British Airways discriminated against Christian employee

Today’s European Court of Human Rights ruling that British Airways discriminated against an employee over her religious beliefs firmly upholds the rights to freedom of religion and expression, Amnesty International said.

Nadia Eweida, a Coptic Christian, took her case to the European Court after the airline stopped her from wearing a visible crucifix at work.

"Wearing religious symbols is an important part of the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. This welcome decision will hopefully reduce discrimination in the workplace against religious believers of all faiths," said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination.

Amnesty International has documented many cases similar to Ms Eweida’s where Muslim individuals have been dismissed or not hired by private employers just because they were wearing visible religious or cultural symbols or dress.

Restrictions on religious and cultural symbols and dress have often been justified by private employers in countries including Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland on the basis that they were necessary for performing occupational tasks and activities.

"This notion has unfortunately often been used as a smokescreen to discriminate against religious believers,” said Marco Perolini.

"Of course there are cases where employers may put in place rules to restrict their employees wearing religious symbols in the workplace, but there should always be a legitimate aim for doing so and the restriction should always be proportionate and necessary to the aim sought."

In the same ruling, the Court found that the rights of three other Christian employees were not violated.

Ms Ladele and Mr McFarlene argued that their dismissal, justified by their employers of the basis of their refusal to conduct same sex civil partnership and to provide relationship counselling to same sex couples, amounted to discrimination on the ground of their Christian beliefs.

In these cases the employees refused to carry out tasks that were essential in the context of their functions. 

“The right to freedom of religion or belief can be restricted with the aim of protecting the rights of the others, which include the right to be free from discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation” said Marco Perolini.