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Muslim woman suing estate agent ‘after being told black hijab made her look like a terrorist’

The Independent logo The Independent 22/06/2017 Lizzie Dearden

© Provided by Independent Print Limited A Muslim woman is suing her former employers after allegedly being ordered to remove her black headscarf because the garment had “terrorist affiliations”.

The estate agent, who did not want to be named, had been working for Harvey Dean in Bury for almost a year when she says managers took issue with her hijab.

A complaint filed at the Manchester Employment Tribunal says 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, said she was not prepared to change her attire for the reasons given.

She says she refused 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 claimant says she was reprimanded for sending a text message to her father.

“He then went on a tirade accusing the claimant of not working,” read tribunal documents seen by The Independent.

“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 f*** 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 to The Independent that her objections to the order “fell on deaf ears” and left her feeling unable to remain at the company.

“I was shocked at what they were asking and the reasons they were giving,” the woman added.

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 20 July, could result in Harvey Dean paying “aggravated damages” and compensation covering loss of earnings, holiday pay and legal fees.

“If I receive anything, that will be of secondary importance,” the claimant said.

“What is of primary importance to me over and above anything is that this serves as a warning to employers that such pressure upon employees is absolutely and categorically unacceptable based upon illogical ideas with no evidence.

“Young Muslim women, whether they attend schools, colleges or work in professional environments, should never have to feel that they have to compromise their religious beliefs or water down their Muslim identity for fear of intimidating people of other or no faith.”

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.

“An internal rule of an undertaking which prohibits the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign does not constitute direct discrimination,” the court ruled.

“However, in the absence of such a rule, the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the employer's services provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered an occupational requirement that could rule out discrimination.”

The complaint in Bury alleges that Harvey Dean had no such rule in place, noting that Muslim male employees were allowed to wear beards and the company’s staff handbook stated that it “does not seek to inhibit individual choice as regards appearance”.

The company could not be reached for comment.

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