UK woman sues employer for ordering her to remove ‘terrorist looking’ black hijab


World, Europe

The woman had been working for Harvey Dean in Bury for almost a year when her managers took issue with the hijab.

Judges found that companies could legally ban employees from wearing the Islamic headscarf. (Photo: (Photo: Representational/File)

London: A Muslim woman has filed a religious discrimination complaint against her employers at a UK tribunal for allegedly ordering her to remove her black hijab because it signified "terrorist affiliation".

The estate agent, who has not been named, had been working for Harvey Dean in Bury, Greater Manchester, for about a year when she said her managers took issue with her hijab.

A complaint filed at the Manchester Employment Tribunal was quoted by The Independent as saying that the woman was told that moving from a back office into public view meant "that it would be in the best interest of the business for her to change the colour of her hijab, due to the supposed terrorist affiliation with the colour black".

A colleague allegedly claimed that the predominantly white and non-Muslim community around the company's office would "feel intimidated and scared if they saw the claimant".

The woman, who had been wearing a black headscarf that left her face uncovered since starting at Harvey Dean, was quoted as saying that she was not prepared to change her attire for the reasons given. She said she refused her employers' orders again in a phone call and a meeting held the following day with the male manager, who had allegedly brought coloured hijabs into the office for her to change into.

Hours later, the woman said she was reprimanded for sending a text message to her father. "He then went on a tirade accusing the claimant of not working," according to the complaint filed with tribunal. 

"The claimant informed him that she was on her lunch break but he told her that he did not care (and) then proceeded to tell her to 'Get the (expletive) out of here.'"

The woman left the office and, after hearing nothing further from the company, submitted a letter of resignation the following week. She claimed that her objections to the order "fell on deaf ears and left her feeling unable to remain at the company.

The former housing sales negotiator said she felt "singled out" as the only Muslim woman in the office and claims the company discriminated against her on the basis of both religion and gender.

The tribunal complaint argues that her treatment created an "intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment", and is seeking a written admission that she was subjected to unlawful discrimination.

The case, which will be considered at a preliminary hearing at the Manchester Employment Tribunal on July 20, could result in Harvey Dean paying "aggravated damages" and compensation covering loss of earnings, holiday pay and legal fees, the report said.

Zillur Rahman, an employment lawyer representing the claimant for Rahman Lowe Solicitors, believes the case is the first of its kind in the UK following a landmark ruling at the European Court of Justice in March.

Judges found that companies could legally ban employees from wearing the Islamic headscarf, but only as part of prohibitions encompassing all religious and political symbols equally.