The Canadian owner of an "urban, funky, punky" hair salon is being sued for religious discrimination for refusing to hire a Muslim woman in a headscarf as a stylist.
Sarah Desrosiers, 32, originally from Windsor, Ont., says she turned down applicant Bushra Noah as a junior stylist to maintain the image of her salon.
She told Noah, 19, that she needed staff to display their hairstyles to the public, but the devout Muslim insisted that wearing her headscarf was essential to her beliefs.
Noah, who has been rejected for 25 different hairdressing jobs after interviews, is suing Desrosiers for the equivalent of $30,000 for injury to her feelings plus an unspecified sum for lost earnings.
Desrosiers, who set up her Wedge salon in King's Cross, north London, 18 months ago, says she faces financial ruin if she loses the case and would be forced to close.
She denies any discrimination and insists it is an "absolutely basic" job requirement that people should be able to see a stylist's hair.
"When a potential client walks past on the street, they mostly look into a salon at the stylists to get an impression of what haircut they are going to get there," said Desrosiers. "The image I have built my salon on is very urban, funky, punky. That is the look I am going for.
"If an employee were wearing a baseball cap or cowboy hat I would ask them to remove it at work.
"The essence of my line of work is the display of hair. To me, it's absolutely basic that people should be able to see the stylist's hair. It has nothing to do with religion. It is just unfortunate that for her covering her hair symbolizes her religion.
"I now feel like I have been branded a racist. My accountant is Muslim. I have never discriminated against Muslims. My name is being dragged through the mud and I feel victimized.
"This girl is suing me for more than I earn in a year. I am a small business and have only had my salon a year and a half."
Desrosiers said she has spent about $2,000 defending the case.
"I am prepared to stand up in court but if I lose this lawsuit, my whole business will fold," she said. "I cannot even afford a lawyer at the moment and am having to plan fundraising activities to cover legal costs."
In legal papers setting out her employment tribunal claim, Noah alleges she was discriminated against at her interview in March and wrongly turned down for a job she was capable of doing because of her headscarf.
"On the phone, Sarah sounded very keen on me because of my experience and qualifications. I sent her my CV and she invited me in a few days later for a trial day.
"But when I got there, she looked at me in shock. She started making excuses about wanting someone who lived locally, but I knew it was my headscarf. She said, `You really should have told me that you wear a headscarf.' She kept repeating: `You really should have told me.'
"I had no problems wearing my headscarf in the other salon I worked at.
"I am British-born and I know the urban, funky look. Just because I wear a headscarf does not mean that I do not follow the latest trends and fashions."
"I just thought that Sarah should not be allowed to get away with it and that if I don't stand up for myself, no one else will."
The case is due to be heard at Central London Employment Tribunal in January. [Link]
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