Category Archives: Law

BA worker ‘speechless’ after losing religious discrimination case

Nadia Eweida sued the airline for religious discrimination after alleging she was barred from wearing a Christian symbol

A British Airways worker suspended for wearing a Christian cross said she was “very disappointed” at losing her claim for religious discrimination.

Nadia Eweida, from Twickenham, southwest London, took her case to an employment tribunal after complaining that a manager banned her from wearing a small cross around her neck.

“I’m very disappointed. I’m speechless really because I went to the tribunal to seek justice,” she said after learning about the tribunal’s decision yesterday.

“But the judge has given way for BA to have a victory on imposing their will on all their staff.”
Miss Eweida, 56, said that she turned down £8,500 from BA to settle out of court.

She said:

“I cannot be gagged about my faith.”

She vowed to proceed with her case if her solicitor agreed.

“It’s not over until God says it’s over,” she said.

The row erupted, according to Miss Eweida, after a diversity awareness meeting in October 2006 when a manager told her to remove it or hide her cross from sight.

When she refused, she was put on unpaid leave from her post at Heathrow Airport.

The company eventually changed its uniform policy and Miss Eweida returned to work in February last year. She continues to be employed by the airline. She has been on rest days this week, but will return to work tomorrow wearing her cross.

Miss Eweida said the root of her complaint was that the airline had “rules for one minority group but not the other”. She said that while Muslims and Sikhs were allowed to wear hijabs and religious Kara bangles respectively, she, as a Christian, was asked to remove her religious jewellery.“It is a form of discrimination against Christians,” she said.

She said she would have to consider whether to stay at the company. BA said it was pleased with the tribunal’s decision. A spokesman said: “We have always maintained that our uniform policy did not discriminate against Christians and we are pleased that the tribunal’s decision supports our position.

“Our current policy allows symbols of faith to be worn openly and has been developed with multi-faith groups and our staff. “Nadia Eweida has worked for us for eight years and continues to be a valued member of our staff.”

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She was portrayed in the press as a victim of cruel religious discrimination – a poor persecuted Christian who had been “banned” by British Airways from wearing a simple cross at work. And all this while her Muslim and Sikh colleagues were parading about in hijabs and turbans.

The Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Tony Blair came out in her defence. The Daily Mail took up the cudgels on her behalf. One hundred MPs spoke out in her favour. Bishops demanded a boycott of BA. Evangelical Christians went into paroxysms of righteous fury. At last – here was proof that they were innocent victims of Christianophobia – as practised by our very own national airline.

An open and shut case, you might think. Nadia Eweida was a Christian martyr, pure and simple.

But hang on a moment. The employment tribunal, to which she complained, has just published its judgment, and it tells a rather different story. Not only did it kick out all her claims of religious discrimination and harassment, it also criticised her for her intransigence, saying that she:

“… generally lacked empathy for the perspective of others … her own overwhelming commitment to her faith led her at times to be both naive and uncompromising in her dealings with those who did not share her faith.”

One example of this was her insistence that she must never be required to work on Christmas Day, even though she had signed a contract that made it clear that she, like her colleagues, would be working in an operation that functions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and therefore required shift working and bank holiday working, too.

In order to be fair to everybody, BA used a union-approved ballot system to ensure that those who worked on Christmas Day were fairly and objectively chosen. If their name came up, they were at liberty to negotiate with their colleagues to change shifts and days on a like-for-like basis. But not Nadia. She insisted that, because she was a Christian, she must not be required to work on Christmas Day – or Sunday, come to that.

The tribunal commented:

“[Eweida’s] insistence on privilege for Christmas Day is perhaps the most striking example in the case of her insensitivity towards colleagues, her lack of empathy for those without religious focus in their lives, and her incomprehension of the conflicting demands which professional management seeks to address and resolve on a near-daily basis.”

Eweida was originally suspended from work as a BA check-in clerk when she refused to wear a cross on a necklace underneath her uniform rather than on top of it. This breached stated uniform policy, which stated that no one was allowed to wear visible adornments around their neck.

But Eweida and her Christian activist backers managed to foment such a backlash that BA was forced into changing the policy. Now she can wear her cross visibly, and the airline offered her £8,500 compensation and a return to her job, with her point successfully made.

But no – she decided to continue pursuing the airline at the industrial tribunal. She was funded in her action by a rightwing religious law firm in Arizona called the Alliance Defence Fund, whose affiliated lawyer was Paul Diamond, a familiar figure in court cases demanding religious privilege.

The tribunal – unlike the Daily Mail – was required to look at all the evidence, and not consider only Eweida’s account of events. And having done so, it kicked the case out on all counts, saying that Eweida did not suffer any discrimination.

The tribunal concluded:

“The complaint of direct discrimination fails because we find that the claimant did not, on grounds of religion or belief, suffer less favourable treatment than a comparator in identical circumstances.”

The tribunal also heard how Eweida’s attitude and behaviour towards colleagues had prompted a number of complaints objecting to her: “Either giving them religious materials unsolicited, or speaking to colleagues in a judgmental or censorious manner which reflected her beliefs; one striking example,” said the judgment, “was a report from a gay man that the claimant had told him that it was not too late to be redeemed.”

Indeed, the proselytising motivation of her desire to wear the cross over her uniform instead of underneath it was underlined when she said: “It is important to wear it to express my faith so that other people will know that Jesus loves them.”

The details of this case make it clear that this is a woman who is wearing religious blinkers. In several instances she brought grievances and complaints against BA that had no basis in fact. She was convinced that BA was anti-Christian, and nothing would dissuade her from that opinion, despite the company jumping through hoops trying to accommodate the many and varied religious demands being placed on it. Indeed, there is a BA Christian Fellowship group that did not support Eweida’s fight, and confirmed that BA was already “making available facilities, time, work spaces, intranet use and supporting Christian charitable activities throughout the world” – but strangely we haven’t heard about them in the newspaper reports.

The tribunal notes that on the original claim form, Eweida states “I have not been permitted to wear my Christian cross; whilst other faiths (Sikhs, Hindu, Muslims) are permitted to manifest their faith in very obvious fashion. Secular individuals can show private affiliations.” The tribunal found the first and last assertions to be untrue. But Eweida would not be persuaded.

Her numerous demands for special treatment because of her religion showed a complete indifference to the effect it would have on the lives of others. Indeed, in one instance she made an accusation against the Christian Fellowship group that turned out to be completely fallacious, and the tribunal felt compelled to say: “We find it demonstrates to a degree the extent to which the claimant [Eweida] misinterpreted events, as well as her readiness to make a serious accusation without thought of the implications.”

Now we read that there is another case in the pipeline for British Airways. An orthodox Jewish man is bringing a case of religious discrimination because he is required to work on Saturday, the Jewish Shabat.

And a demonstration by Sikhs has just taken place outside the Welsh assembly, demanding that a schoolgirl be permitted to breach the school’s uniform policy by wearing a ceremonial bangle, the kara.

As Jonathan Bartley, of the religious thinktank Ekklesia said of the Eweida case:

“Like many of the other claims of discrimination being made by Christians, this has turned out to be false. People should be aware that behind many such cases there are groups whose interests are served by stirring up feelings of discrimination of marginalisation amongst Christians. What can appear to be a case of discrimination at first glance is often nothing of the sort. It is often more about Christians attempting to gain special privileges and exemptions.”

The National Secular Society has demanded that employers should be permitted to declare their workplaces secular spaces if they want to, without penalty. Attempts by employers to accommodate everyone have turned many workplaces into religious battlegrounds. It should now be OK to say: “Leave your religion at the door, please. And if you won’t and your religion doesn’t permit you to work in the way that this jobs demands you do, then please find another job that will.”

Terry Sanderson


DNA fingerprinting 25 years old (but DNA databases are wrong)

The scientist behind DNA fingerprinting has called for a change to the law governing DNA databases on the 25th anniversary of his discovery.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys uncovered the process by chance in his laboratory at Leicester University. The technique has since been used to solve crimes and identity cases. But it has also led to controversy over profiles kept on the national DNA database. “Innocent people do not belong on that database,” he said. The scientist stumbled across the groundbreaking development on 10 September, 1984. He realised that variable patterns in the structure of DNA could be used to distinguish one person from another.

‘Blue skies research’ It led to the development of DNA fingerprinting, which has been used to solve a range of crimes. Last year, 17,614 offences were solved using a DNA match, including 83 killings and 184 rapes. It has also been developed to help solve unanswered questions and disputes over personal identity, paternity, immigration, conservation and cloning.

In an interview to mark the anniversary of his discovery, Professor Jeffreys spoke of the importance of allowing academics freedom to research. Professor Jeffreys He said academics should be able to pursue “unfettered, fundamental, curiosity-driven” research. “Blue skies” research, which led to discoveries such as his own, was “the ultimate engine of all scientific and technological evolution,” he said, warning: “You lose that at your peril.”

He renewed his calls for the government to change the law governing the UK’s DNA databases – particularly the practice in England and Wales of keeping the DNA profiles of thousands of people who have neither been charged nor convicted. There are now more than five million profiles on the national DNA database, a rise of 40% in two years. He told the BBC: “My view is very, very simple, has been right from the outset. “Innocent people do not belong on that database. Branding them as future criminals is not proportionate response in the fight against crime. “And I’ve met a fair number of these people and some of these people are very, very upset and are distressed by the fact that their DNA is on that database. They cannot get it off and they feel as if they’re branded as criminals.


Parents choose religion over their child’s life

OREGON CITY, Oregon (AP) – An Oregon judge has rejected defense claims of selective and vindictive prosecution in the manslaughter trial of a couple whose 15-month-old daughter died of pneumonia while they prayed for her recovery.

Clackamas County Judge Steven Maurer told lawyers for Carl and Raylene Worthington that the couple had a duty to seek medical care for their daughter, Ava, despite their religious beliefs. A state medical examiner has said the toddler, who died in March 2008, could have been treated with antibiotics.

The Worthingtons are members of the Followers of Christ — a small Oregon City church that advocates spiritual healing instead of medical care.

If convicted, the couple faces up to 10 years in prison.


Muslim faith school fails to meet standards

A TEAM of experts will be sent in to monitor the overhaul of a primary school which has been strongly criticised in the most damning inspection report ever issued by the Department of Education.

The unprecedented move follows a litany of shocking revelations contained in an inspection report into the North Dublin Muslim School in Cabra, which is housed in the former School for the Deaf.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe last night said the standards of management, teaching and learning at the school were “unacceptable” and that child protection policies were “inadequate”.

The findings — the most critical of nearly 3,000 inspection reports issued by the department — are set to cause alarm within Ireland‘s 32,000-strong Muslim community.

The report — seen by the Irish Independent — will be officially published tomorrow. It reveals:

  • Taxpayers’ money given to the school in the form of grants since it opened in 2001 is unaccounted for;
  • The quality of teaching of English, Irish and maths is “poor” or “very poor“, with teacher morale “very poor“;
  • Sanitary facilities are “inadequate;
  • The school is in breach of several pieces of legislation;
  • The school refuses to implement the music curriculum.

Separate correspondence, also seen by the Irish Independent, reveals that the school failed to pay around €37,000 it owed to the department.

To recover some of the money, the department withheld payment of the capitation grant in June 2008 and threatened to do so again recently.

Critical

The patron of the school, Imam Yahya Al-Hussein, said the report was too critical and a bit “over the top”.

He said the current board of management, appointed last November, inherited the problems and was trying to solve them. The former board chairperson Shahzad Ahmed was unavailable for comment last night.

The draft inspection report says that no financial accounts are available since the school opened and there is little physical evidence of where state grants have been spent.

The current acting principal (the fourth since it opened) has still not completed the probationary process. All the mainstream teaching staff resigned last June and the board made 12 new appointments. No member of the teaching staff had completed the probationary period at the time of the inspection on November 28 — only four of them are fully qualified within the Irish system.

The report says that the school is unable to provide support for newly qualified teachers or those experiencing professional difficulties.

Several policies that relate to the care, welfare and protection of children have not been drawn up. The school is in breach of the Education Welfare Act (2000) and of the Rules for National Schools.

The report says there are no policies on attendance; child protection; social personal and health education and on the duties of special needs assistants. The Relationships and Sexuality Education programme has not been implemented. There are no plans for assessment; for English as an additional language; for visual arts, physical education; drama and music.

The North Dublin school is one of two schools catering for the Muslim community. Pupil numbers there have fallen significantly since 2006, the report says. However, the report found inconsistencies between class roll books, the attendance book and the register of pupils.

Since 2006 almost 3,000 inspection reports have been published by the department on its website. There are two kinds of reports: single subjects; and Whole School Evaluation (WSE) such as that prepared for the North Dublin Muslim National School.

The inspectors review the quality of school management, school planning and the quality of learning and teaching. There have been a few very critical reports, mainly at post-primary level, but none come anywhere near this one in terms of the directness of the language and the criticism.

It represents a significant step change in the approach taken by the department whose lawyers checked and double checked the report before agreeing to its publication.

– John Walshe Education Editor


Terror law used to stop thousands ‘just to balance racial statistics’

Thousands of people are being stopped and searched by the police under counter-terrorism powers simply to provide a racial balance in official statistics, the government’s official anti-terror law watchdog has revealed.

Lord Carlile said in his annual report that he has got “ample anecdotal evidence”, adding that it was “totally wrong” and an invasion of civil liberties to stop and search people simply to racially balance the statistics.

“I can well understand the concerns of the police that they should be free from allegations of prejudice,” he said. “But it is not a good use of precious resources if they waste them on self-evidently unmerited searches.”

The official reviewer of counter-terrorist legislation said there was little or no evidence that the use of section 44 stop-and-search powers by the police can prevent an act of terrorism.

“Whilst arrests for other crime have followed searches under the section, none of the many thousands of searches has ever resulted in a conviction for a terrorism offence. Its utility has been questioned publicly and privately by senior Metropolitan police staff with wide experience of terrorism policing,” said Carlile.

He added that such searches were stopping between 8,000-10,000 people a month.

Under the Terrorism Act 2000, the “section 44 stops” allow the police to search anyone in a designated area without suspicion that an offence has occurred. But Carlile is critical of the use of the powers used by the Met police, saying he felt “a sense of frustration” that the force did not limit its section 44 authorisations to some boroughs or parts of boroughs but used them across its entire area.

“I cannot see a justification for the whole of the Greater London area being covered permanently. The intention of the section was not to place London under permanent special search powers.”

None of the many thousands of searches had ever led to a conviction for a terrorist offence, he said. He noted, too, that the damage done to community relations was “undoubtedly considerable”.

Examples of poor, or unnecessary use, of section 44 abounded. “I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop.”

The Met has announced a review of how it uses section 44 powers. And the home secretary, Alan Johnson, is to issue fresh guidance to the police, warning that counter-terrorism must not be used to stop people taking photographs of on-duty officers.

Carlile uses his annual report to endorse complaints from professional and amateur photographers that counter-terror powers are being used to threaten prosecution if pictures are taken of officers on duty.

He said the power was only intended to cover images likely to be of use to a terrorist: “It is inexcusable for police officers ever to use this provision to interfere with the rights of individuals to take photographs.” The police had to come to terms with the increased scrutiny of their activities by the public, afforded by equipment such as video-enabled mobile phones. “Police officers who use force or threaten force in this context run the real risk of being prosecuted themselves for one or more of several possible criminal and disciplinary offences,” he warned.

He mentioned an incident in which two Austrian tourists were rebuked by officers for photographing Walthamstow bus station, in east London.


Church can no longer remain untouchable

It is almost a month since the publication of the Ryan Commission report outlining the extent of child abuse in religious-run industrial schools for half a century. The outpouring of anger and grief that followed has set the political agenda in a most surprising way. The heads of religious orders have been summoned to Government Buildings, ordered to produce an inventory of their assets, and can now expect a bill of up to ¤500m to atone for the sins and crimes of their sisters, brothers and priests.

But we detect a mood in favour of more profound changes. Almost since its foundation in 1922, the Irish state has genuflected deeply before the altar of the Catholic church. Politicians have literally and metaphorically kissed the rings of bishops. Church and state were so closely intertwined that the republic could feasibly have been defined as a “theocracy” at one point.

It was the state’s deference towards the church that allowed the abuse in industrial schools to continue for so long. As Justice Ryan said in his report, the Department of Education’s “submissive” attitude towards the religious congregations “compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and monitoring of the schools”.

That deference, combined with the sclerotic slothfulness that generally characterises the Irish public service, had another effect: it allowed the Catholic church to take control of the Irish education and health systems. State laziness and indifference has allowed that regime to continue, despite the huge decline in the number of priests and nuns since the 1970s.

Pat Rabbitte, a Labour TD, probably went too far in the Dail last week when he said that “for the first time in our history, public opinion wants an end to the deference and a separation of church and state”. A majority of the public — 95% of whom are believers — may be happy enough with the status quo. But Mr Rabbitte’s party is correct to say this scandal should not go unpunished.

There are 3,200 primary schools in the country, but fewer than 100 of them are owned by the state, according to Labour, with the rest in the hands of the church. Many of these schools are owned by the 18 religious orders which have been indicted in the Ryan report. This is now clearly unacceptable. Those orders were not just guilty of physical, mental and sexual abuse of children for decades — they were also guilty of minimising and denying their crimes right up until this year.

They adopted an aggressive line with the state in the matter of compensation, securing a soft deal, and then didn’t even keep their side of a very lopsided bargain. Up to half the properties that were supposed to be given to the state as part of the infamous ¤128m indemnity deal struck in 2002 still haven’t been handed over. Contrition and atonement are key concepts in the Catholic catechism — we’ve seen precious little of either from most of the 18 religious orders involved.

The Department of Education has refused to answer questions about the precise ownership of the primary school system, even though it is funded by taxpayers. This is unacceptable. Batt O’Keeffe, the education minister, should now order his officials to draw up a full register of ownership and publish it. When that task is complete, the state will be better able to decide what steps it might take to end this decades-old relationship. In the meantime, justice dictates that those schools owned by the religious orders named in the Ryan report be handed over as a matter of urgency.


Muslim waitress wins nearly £3,000 for hurt feelings over skimpy dress

A Muslim cocktail waitress who quit after refusing to wear a bright red dress for work has won almost £3,000 in compensation for sexual harassment.

Fata Lemes, 33, was handed the payout even though a tribunal panel rejected her claim that the dress was “sexually revealing and indecent”.

It concluded that the Bosnian Muslim “holds views about modesty and decency which some might think unusual in Britain in the 21st century”.

But it accepted that Miss Lemes genuinely believed that the short, low-cut dress was “disgusting” and made her look “like a prostitute”.

Bosses at the Rocket bar and restaurant in London’s Mayfair should have made allowance for her feelings and their insistence that she wear the dress amounted to sexual harassment, it ruled.

The panel at Central London Employment Tribunal found that Miss Lemes “overstated” her trauma at being asked to wear the sleeveless dress that was open at the back.

It rejected Miss Lemes’ claim that she was left with no choice but to walk out of her job after just eight days.

It branded her compensation claim of £20,000 including £17,500 for hurt feelings – as “manifestly absurd”.

But it awarded her £2,919.95 for hurt feelings and loss of earnings.

Miss Lemes told the tribunal that she “might as well be naked” in the dress, adding: “I was brought up a Muslim and am not used to wearing sexually attractive clothes.”

A photo of Miss Lemes on Facebook, however, showed her wearing a low cut T-shirt revealing her cleavage.

In its judgment, the panel ruled that restaurant group Spring & Greene, which owns the Rocket chain, must “take their victim as they find her”.

It said of the dress: “It is eye-catching, not only because of its colour but also because of its cut and lines.

“It is clearly a garment for a girl or young woman. It is intended to, and does, show the curves of the body.

“It seeks to make the wearer attractive. It might be seen as a party dress or something to wear at an informal celebration.”

But the panel ruled that wearing the dress could not amount to “conduct of a sexual nature”.

Miss Lemes told how she was pestered for sex by customers at the bar shortly after starting work in May last year.

The tribunal ruled: “In our judgment, the effect of requiring her to wear the dress was to violate her dignity. We further consider that it created for her an environment which was degrading, humiliating and offensive.”

It pointed out that a summer uniform of “brightly coloured, figure-hugging garb” had not been introduced for male waiting staff.

But the tribunal rejected Miss Lemes’ claim of constructive dismissal.

The company’s lawyer Tom Grady told the tribunal: “There is no evidence to support the suggestion that it is a sex club or some sort of seedy brothel.”