New victimisation case from employee who won crucifix discrimination claim

British Airways faces a further discrimination case from employee who successfully argued against the airline’s dress code policy.

In 2013 the European Court of Human Rights judged that Ms Eweida’s human right to manifest her religion had been breached by the airline’s policy on clothing. The company dress code stated that employees could not wear visible jewellery around their necks unless it was a mandatory scriptural requirement to wear religious items which could not be covered up. Ms Eweida’s decision to wear a crucifix around her neck, as a devout Christian, was not regarded by the airline as a mandatory scriptural requirement.

Within the domestic employment tribunal, and on appeal up to the Court of Appeal, the employee’s claim of religious discrimination was unsuccessful. Once the case reached the European Court, it was judged that the company’s policy of projecting a neutral corporate image to customers was not fairly balanced against the employee’s right to manifest her religious beliefs.

The employee has now announced that she is bringing additional discrimination claims against the airline, including victimisation, harassment and being subjected to a detriment after blowing the whistle, due to the behaviour of the company in the years since her successful claim. The employee will claim that various actions by the company have subjected her to a detriment because she made a claim, such as an update to the dress code policy requiring cravats to be tucked into blouses as this requires her to wear her crucifix on top of her cravat.

BA have announced that they intend to defend the claims at the employment tribunal.

This latest case highlights a potentially tricky area for employers after a claim of discrimination has been brought against their business. Victimisation is a separate area under the Equality Act 2010 which prevents employees from being subjected to a detriment where they have:

  • brought a discrimination claim at tribunal
  • supported another person’s discrimination claim through, for example, giving evidence
  • made an allegation that their rights have been breached eg by raising a grievance.

Organisations need to ensure their managers are aware of this additional protection under the Equality Act to prevent them falling foul of discrimination laws. Managers who treat employees negatively after the raising of discrimination concerns, whether these are raised internally in the form of a grievance or externally through the tribunal system, could leave the organisation open to another costly victimisation claim. As a minimum, managers need to be trained on how to manage staff effectively through difficult periods. They should also receive regular training on equality and diversity laws, and how this applies in practice.

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