Devereux Chambers’ Ingrid Simler successfully acted for British Airways (BA) in defence of an indirect discrimination claim brought by an employee who was refused permission to wear a cross visibly at work.
Sitting in the Court of Appeal Lord Justices Sedley and Carnwath and Lady Justice Smith upheld an earlier ruling that BA had not discriminated on the grounds of religion because the airline could justify its actions.
Sedley LJ ruled that, for the claimant Naida Eweida, the wearing of a cross was a “person preference”, adding: “There was no suggestion that her religious belief, however profound, called for it.”
The court also noted that the airline’s dress code had been in place for seven years and that the claimant had not complained before.
When the claimant did complain, said Sedley LJ, she refused an offer made by BA to move into a post without public contact, meaning she could wear the cross. Instead, Sedley LJ said, she chose to stay away and claim compensation.
Simler was instructed by Baker & McKenzie partner John Evason for the defendant.
Matrix Chambers’ Karon Monaghan QC was instructed by Liberty - an independent civil rights organisation also known as the National Council for Civil Liberties - for the claimant.
Russell Jones & Walker employment partner Arpita Dutt commented: “What this case exposes is the grey area surrounding individuals’ manifestations of their faith, and the question of the extent to which that must be supported by a group or be a fundamental tenet of a faith.”