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Discrimination when a customer complains about the wearing of a headscarf

Upon recruitment, an employee was advised that due to the customer-facing nature of her role, she would not be able to wear her headscarf at all times. Following a site visit, a customer complained that she had worn her headscarf. When the employee refused to comply with the customer’s wishes, she was dismissed.

On the assumption that her treatment was discriminatory, the question to consider was whether it could be justified. The difference of treatment based on a protected characteristic may be lawful where, by reason of the nature of the particular occupational activities concerned or the context in which they are carried out, the characteristic constitutes a 'genuine and determining occupational requirement'. The European Court of Justice held it could not be.

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