EU lawyer backs woman sacked for wearing Islamic headscarf
One of the EU’s leading law officials has found in favour of a woman who was sacked for wearing an Islamic headscarf at work.
The findings of an EU Advocate General are not binding on the European Court of Justice (ECJ), although they are usually accepted.
The case involved a French design engineer who wore a headscarf during a meeting with important clients. The clients complained to her employer that the headscarf made them feel uncomfortable and requested that she did not wear it in future.
She refused to remove the headscarf and so the employer dismissed her.
In a preliminary opinion for the ECJ, the British Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston advised that the dismissal amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.
Sharpston said: “It seems to me that in the vast majority of cases it will be possible, on the basis of a sensible discussion between the employer and the employee, to reach an accommodation that reconciles adequately the competing rights of the employee to manifest his or her religion and the employer to conduct his business.
“Occasionally, however, that may not be possible. In the last resort, the business interest in generating maximum profit should then in my view give way to the right of the individual employee to manifest his religious convictions. Here, I draw attention to the insidiousness of the argument, ‘but we need to do X because otherwise our customers won’t like it’.
“Where the customer’s attitude may itself be indicative of prejudice based on one of the ‘prohibited factors’, such as religion, it seems to me particularly dangerous to excuse the employer from compliance with an equal treatment requirement in order to pander to that prejudice.”
The ECJ will make the final decision on whether the dismissal amounted to religious discrimination.
The rulings of the ECJ will apply until such time as Britain completes its withdrawal from the EU, and may apply after that, depending on decisions taken by parliament at the time.
Please contact Jackie Cuneen if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.