Air steward’s claim for religious discrimination against British Airways fails

A recent claim by an air steward (Williams v British Airways plc) has failed at the Employment Tribunal after it was found that his being called “darling” whilst at work did not constitute direct religious discrimination.

Mr Williams (“the Claimant”) commenced employment with British Airways in X as an air steward. He is apparently a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He appeared to have been offended by another cabin crew member when they referred to him as “darling” during a transatlantic flight. He issued a claim for direct religious discrimination in the Employment Tribunal. British Airways defended the claim on the basis that the remark did not constitute direct age discrimination as it did not constitute less favourable treatment – it was a term that was the natural result of the cabin crew having to work with many different other staff members, consequently making it difficult for them to remember each other’s names.

Direct religious discrimination at work occurs if a worker or employee is treated less favourably (i.e. through a simple remark or something arguably more serious such as a disciplinary or dismissal) than other workers because they are a member of a particular religious community (or are mistakenly believed to be).

The Employment Tribunal held that the term was not offensive and did not constitute direct religious discrimination as it did not amount to less favourable treatment. Further, the treatment wasn’t afforded to the Claimant on the basis of his religious beliefs but simply because of operational necessity at the Respondent.

However, there are situations in which “name-calling” can constitute discrimination or harassment (sexual harassment or otherwise). For example, calling a particular female employee “babe” whilst not using the term for other employees could constitute sexual harassment (and possibly direct discrimination, depending on the circumstances).