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BA worker wins case over crucifix

A British Airways worker who was forced out of her job for wearing a cross had her religious rights violated, the European court of human rights (ECHR) has ruled.

In a landmark legal ruling, Nadia Eweida's case was upheld by judges in Strasbourg who ruled the decision to express her faith warranted protection under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The 60-year-old was sent home from work for displaying a small silver crucifix during her job as an airport check-in attendant for the airline. The ECHR ruled that Miss Eweida, a Coptic Christian, had been discriminated against under freedom of religion laws.

But they rejected similar claims made by three other Christians, including a challenge brought by nurse Shirley Chaplin, 57, who was switched to a desk job after she refused to take off a crucifix which hung round her neck. Mrs Chaplin's claims were rejected on the grounds that the removal of her necklace was necessary to protect the health and safety of nurses and patients.

Another two cases - those of marriage counsellor Gary McFarlane, 51, and registrar Lillian Ladele, 52, who objected to elements of their jobs which they felt conflicted with their beliefs - were also dismissed.

In relation to Ms Eweida, the ruling stated that her cross was "discreet and cannot have detracted from her professional appearance".

It went on: "There was no evidence that the wearing of other, previously authorised, items of religious clothing, such as turbans and hijabs, by other employees had any negative impact on British Airways' brand or image.

"Moreover, the fact that the company was able to amend the uniform code to allow for the visible wearing of religious symbolic jewellery demonstrates that the earlier prohibition was not of crucial importance. The court therefore concludes that ... the domestic authorities failed sufficiently to protect the first applicant's right to manifest her religion."

Miss Eweida spoke of her delight following the ECHR's decision and said Christian rights had been "vindicated" in relation to her own case. But she added: "I'm disappointed on behalf of the other three applicants."

Miss Eweida, 60, from Twickenham, south-west London, left her job in airport check-in in September 2006 after she was sent home from work for displaying a small silver crucifix on a chain around her neck. She 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.