A French Muslim woman who was sacked for wearing the Islamic headscarf at work was unfairly dismissed on the basis of her religion, France’s top court ruled on Tuesday.
In a landmark decision, the Court of Cassation overturned an earlier ruling by an appeal court in Versailles which had upheld the right of her employer, a private crèche in the Paris suburbs, to dismiss the woman after she refused to remove her headscarf.
Any overt religious symbols - headscarves, Jewish skullcaps or Sikh turbans for example - are banned from French state schools, which operate on strictly secular lines.
But the Court of Cassation ruled that this principle could not be applied to the woman’s case because she was employed by a private crèche, or day nursery, meaning her civil right to express her religious faith prevailed.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls told parliament that the court’s ruling was regrettable on the grounds that it “calls into question the principle of secular education.”
The woman, who had just returned to work after a five-year break to bring up her children, was sacked in December 2008 after refusing to remove her scarf when told to by the management of the “Baby Wolf” crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes to the west of Paris.
The crèche had defended the dismissal on the basis of its own internal rules which required employees to be neutral in matters of philosophy, politics and faith.
France has since banned the wearing of niqabs - veils which cover the full face - in public but that controversial legislation would have had no bearing on this case.
Top French court rules sacking over veil ‘discriminatory’