An employment law expert has said more people may take court action against firms over religious discrimination.
Sadiq Vohra, a partner at MWR Solicitors in Preston, said a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which said a Christian suffered religious discrimination after she was made to stop wearing a crucifix necklace was a legal “landmark.”
British Airways employee Nadia Ewedia, 60, was one of four Christians with differing cases of discrimination upheld by the courts.
Mr Vohra said: “No one should be unreasonably discriminated against in the workplace, whether that’s with regard to faith, age, race, disability, sexuality or gender.
“All employers have clear legal duties to treat employees fairly and this case highlights failure to do so.
“The judgement may help other religious believers stay true to their faith and religious principles in the modern British workplace.
“If an employer wants to prevent an employee from wearing a religious symbol for corporate image purposes, it may have to prove that its image has been affected or it’s a risk to health and safety.”
The lengthy judgement found a fair balance was not struck between Miss Eweida’s desire to demonstrate religious belief and BA’s wish to “project a certain corporate image.”
A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling concluded there had been a violation of Miss Eweida’s right to demonstrate her faith which caused her “considerable anxiety, frustration and distress”.
They rejected similar claims made by another three Christians.
Nurse Shirley Chaplin, marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane and registrar Lillian Ladele lost their cases in the same ruling. They can now appeal against the decision at the Grand Chamber of the Court.
Miss Eweida left her job in airport check-in in September 2006 but returned to work in customer services at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in February 2007, after BA changed its uniform policy on visible items of jewellery.
She said she was “jumping for joy” following the ECHR’s decision but expressed disappointed for the other three applicants.
Speaking outside her lawyer’s chambers in central London, she said: “I’m very happy and very happy and very pleased that Christian rights have been vindicated in the UK and Europe.
“I’m very pleased that after all this time the European court has specifically recognised, in paragraph 114 in the judgment, that I have suffered anxiety, frustration and distress.
“I’m disappointed on behalf of the other three applicants but I fully support them in their asking for a referral for their cases to be heard in the Grand Chamber, and I wish them every success in the future to win.
“I was very selfish initially when I heard the verdict because I was jumping for joy and saying ‘thank you Jesus’.”
Miss Eweida, from Twickenham, south-west London, added: “It’s a vindication that Christians have a right to express their faith on par with other colleagues at work visibly and not be ashamed of their faith.”
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