A senior lawyer for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that a French engineer who was dismissed for wearing the hijab should have been allowed to cover her head at work. Eleanor Sharpston, one of the senior Advocate Generals at the ECJ, found in favour of Asma Bougnaoui who lost her job with Micropole SA, a French IT consultancy, in June 2009.
The British lawyer advised that Bougnaoui’s dismissal amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.
Bougnaoui, who had worked for Micropole for a year, was fired without warning. After she had travelled to a meeting with clients at a big French insurance firm, the insurance firm complained to her superiors that her headscarf had “embarrassed” some of its staff. The insurance company also demanded “no headscarf next time”.
Micropole asked Bougnaoui to comply with the request for no hijab on her next visit. When she refused she was dismissed, and she challenged her dismissal in the French courts.
A French industrial tribunal and an appeals court compensated Bougnaoui over the fact that she was fired without prior warning but ruled that her dismissal was founded on a “real and serious cause”. Micropole had said it felt her wearing a headscarf hindered the company’s development because it meant the company could not properly interact with its client.
The French supreme court had asked the ECJ to examine the case. The ECJ was asked to advise on whether a requirement not to wear the hijab when providing IT consultancy services could be regarded as a “genuine and determining occupational requirement”, therefore falling outside the scope of the prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief provided for by a EU directive.
But Sharpston, said the EU directive should be interpreted strictly and that Bougnaoui’s dismissal amounted to direct discrimination on those grounds.