A Muslim teaching assistant today lost her appeal against an employment tribunal’s decision that being prevented from wearing a veil in the classroom was not discrimination.
Aishah Azmi, 24, was suspended on full pay after staff at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said pupils found it harder to understand her.
A Leeds employment tribunal dismissed three of Mrs Azmi’s claims of discrimination and harassment, but found that she was victimised and awarded her £1,000 for “injury to feelings“.
A month later, the local education authority sacked her from her post as a bilingual support worker.
Her lawyer, Nick Whittingham, said that the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) accepted that it was possible for direct discrimination to occur in respect of a manifestation of a religious belief such as the wearing of the veil.
“The EAT rejected the employer’s argument that all discrimination on the basis of such manifestations can potentially be justified as indirect discrimination but decided that in this particular case there had not been direct discrimination against Ms Azmi,” he said.
Rachel Dineley, an employment partner at law firm Beachcroft, said: “In coming to its conclusions the EAT has given employers guidance on the principles that tribunals should apply when they are considering employers’ practices which affect a particular section of the workforce on religious grounds.
“This is particularly welcome given the sensitive nature of the allegations raised and the concern that many employers feel, about balancing the need to respect the beliefs of their employees with a desire to communicate clearly and effectively with clients, customers or those to whom they are delivering services.”
However, Ms Dinely said the ruling did not allow employers to ban staff from wearing veils in all circumstances.
“In Mrs Azmi’s case, wearing a veil was clearly incompatible with the effective teaching of the pupils in question. But in other cases it may be far harder to make such a determination," she added. [Link]
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