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Advocate General Gives Opinion in Discrimination Case


A ban on wearing headscarves in the workplace may be admissible as long as the ban is based on a general company rule that prohibits political, philosophical and religious symbols from being worn visibly in the workplace.

This was the opinion given by an Advocate General at the Court of Justice of the European Union in a case referred to it by the Belgian Courts.
The case in question concerned a woman of Muslim faith who worked as a receptionist for a company in Belgium.
After three years with the company she insisted that she should be allowed to go to work in future wearing an Islamic headscarf. She was subsequently dismissed as the company prohibited the wearing of any visible religious, political and philosophical symbols.
She brought an action before the Belgian courts seeking damages, but was unsuccessful before the first two tiers of courts. The Belgian Court of Cassation, before which the case is now pending, referred the case to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling seeking clarification of the prohibition under EU law of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.
Advocate General Juliane Kokott has now given her Opinion, which takes the view that there is no direct discrimination on the grounds of religion where an employee of Muslim faith is banned from wearing an Islamic headscarf in the workplace, provided that that ban is founded on a general company rule prohibiting visible political, philosophical and religious symbols in the workplace and not on stereotypes or prejudices against one or more particular religions or against religious beliefs in general. If that is the case, there is no less favourable treatment based on religion.
That ban may constitute indirect discrimination based on religion, but may however be Justified in order to enforce a legitimate policy of religious and ideological neutrality pursued by the employer in the company concerned, in so far as the principle of proportionality is observed in that regard.

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