Following today’s ruling by the Court of Justice the European Union that two employers did not break EU anti-discrimination law when they dismissed two women from their respective jobs in France and Belgium for wearing headscarves, John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme said:
“Today’s disappointing rulings by the European Court of Justice give greater leeway to employers to discriminate against women – and men – on the grounds of religious belief. At a time when identity and appearance has become a political battleground, people need more protection against prejudice, not less.”
“The court did say that employers are not at liberty to pander to the prejudices of their clients. But by ruling that company policies can prohibit religious symbols on the grounds of neutrality, they have opened a backdoor to precisely such prejudice. It is now for national governments to step up and protect the rights of their citizens.”
On 12 June 2006, G4S Secure Solutions NV (G4S), a private undertaking in Belgium, dismissed Samira Achbita, who had been working as a receptionist since February 2003, because she informed the company of her intention to start wearing the headscarf in the workplace. Employees in G4S were subjected to an unwritten, and from the following day, a written prohibition on religious and philosophical symbols in the work place.
In another case, on 22 June 2009, Micropole SA, a private undertaking based in France, dismissed Asma Bougnaoui, who had been working as a design engineer for the company since 15 July 2008, because she wanted to continue wearing the headscarf when providing services to the company’s clients. Micropole SA pointed out in the letter of dismissal that employees had to respect a policy of ‘neutrality’ vis-à-vis its clients.
Amnesty International, together with the European Network Against Racism, submitted to the Court that both the measures imposed by G4S Solutions NV and Micropole SA on their employees constitute discrimination based on religion or belief.