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BA Employee Nadia Eweida Wins Cross Case

(c) Sky News 2013

A British Airways employee has won a landmark legal battle over her right to wear a cross at work.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Nadia Eweida, a Coptic Christian, had been discriminated against under freedom of religion laws.

But three other Christian claimants, who launched similar action, lost their cases.

Miss Eweida, 60, took her case against the UK government to the ECHR after she was sent home for wearing a small silver cross around her neck in 2006 in breach of BA uniform codes.

She said she was "jumping for joy" at the ruling and was pleased it recognised the "anxiety, frustration and distress" she suffered.

"I'm very happy and very pleased that Christian rights have been vindicated in the UK and Europe," she added.

The British government was ordered to pay her £1,600 in damages and £25,000 to cover costs.

Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: "Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld - ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs."

An employment tribunal in Britain had ruled Miss Eweida, who lives in Twickenham, southwest London, but is originally from Egypt, did not suffer religious discrimination.

The decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court before Miss Eweida took her fight to the ECHR.

The European judges ruled there had been a violation of article nine (freedom of religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They found a fair balance was not struck between Miss Eweida's desire to demonstrate her religious belief and BA's wish to "project a certain corporate image".

It said Miss Eweida's cross was discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance.

"The court therefore concludes that, in these circumstances where there is no evidence of any real encroachment on the interests of others, the domestic authorities failed sufficiently to protect the first applicant's right to manifest her religion."

Miss Eweida returned to work in customer services at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 in February 2007, after BA changed its uniform policy on visible items of jewellery.

In a statement, the airline said it was not a party to this legal action, which was pursued against the UK government.

"Our own uniform policy was changed in 2007 to allow Miss Eweida and others to wear symbols of faith and she and other employees have been working under these arrangements for the last six years," the statement said.

"Miss Eweida has worked continuously for British Airways for 13 years."

Judges rejected the case of nurse Shirley Chaplin, 57, after they found she was asked to remove her cross for health and safety purposes.

The ruling also found against marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, 51, who was sacked for saying he might object to offering sex therapy to homosexuals.

The judgement said Mr McFarlane took the role at counselling service Relate in the knowledge that clients could not be divided in up in accordance with their sexual orientation.

Registrar Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined when she refused to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies, also lost her legal action.

The court decided Islington Council's action was "legitimate" given it was also obliged to consider the rights of same-sex couples.

All three plan to appeal the decision.

In reaction to the verdict, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said: "Christians and those of other faiths should be free to wear the symbols of their own religion without discrimination.

"Whether people can wear a cross or pray with someone should not be something about which courts and tribunals have to rule."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "Today's judgement is an excellent result for equal treatment, religious freedom and common sense.

"Nadia Eweida wasn't hurting anyone and was perfectly capable of doing her job whilst wearing a small cross.

"British courts lost their way in her case and Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance."