ECHR backs manifestation of religion at work
Eweida and Others v the United Kingdom
European Court of Human Rights Chamber judgment*
Judgment was delivered on January 15th, 2013, by a chamber of seven judges: Lech Garlicki, Paivi Hirvela, Zdravka Kalaydjieva, Nebojsa Vucinic and Vincent A De Gaetano with David Thor Bjorgvinsson, president, and judges Nicolas Bratza partially dissenting
The right to manifest religion at work is protected by the European Convention on Human Rights but must be balanced against the rights of others.
The applicants, Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, were all British nationals and were Christians.
Ms Eweida worked at a check-in desk for British Airways and the rules related to her uniform stated any accessory worn for religious reasons should be hidden or approved. The hijab, a headscarf worn by female Muslim staff was allowed, as was the Sikh turban for men.
In September 2006, Ms Eweida wore her cross and chain visibly, refused to remove it, and was sent home without pay. She was offered administrative work with no uniform, but she rejected the offer.
After negative publicity about the case, the airline changed its policy to allow the wearing of crosses and Ms Eweida returned to work in February 2007.
But the company refused to compensate her for loss of earnings. Ms Eweida took a case for loss of earnings to the domestic employment tribunal and the employment appeals tribunal. Her appeal was eventually rejected by the British Supreme Court in May 2010.
Ms Chaplin was a nurse who wore a cross and chain as an expression of faith. She was employed by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, a state hospital. Its policy was jewellery must be discreet and minimise the risk of cross-infection. Necklaces were banned “to reduce the risk of injury when handling patients”. Two Sikh nurses had been refused permission to wear a kara, a bangle.
Ms Chaplin refused to remove her cross and chain when asked and was moved to a non-nursing temporary position in November 2009, which ceased to exist the following year. She sought compensation domestically for unfair dismissal, but did not appeal a decision against her in light of the Eweida decision.
Ms Ladele became the registrar of births, deaths and marriages for the London Borough of Islington in 2002. She held the belief that same-sex civil partnerships were contrary to God’s law. In December 2005, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into effect, providing for the legal registration of same sex couples.
In April 2006, Ms Ladele was told her refusal to conduct civil partnership ceremonies was in breach of the local authority’s equality code. The domestic appeals system found against Ms Ladele and leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was refused.
Mr McFarlane held a belief that the Bible stated homosexual activity was sinful and he should not endorse it. He worked from May 2003 until March 2008 for the Relate Federation, which provided sex therapy and counselling on a non-discriminatory basis.
Mr McFarlane had difficulty providing sex therapy to same-sex couples. He was eventually dismissed for gross misconduct after his manager found he’d agreed to provide the counselling but had no intention of doing so.
The domestic appeals system found against Mr McFarlane and he was refused the right to appeal on the basis his case could not be distinguished from Ms Ladele’s.