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ASIL: European Court Rules Workplace Regulations Banning Political, Philosophical, or Religious Signs Are Not Direct Discrimination (March 14, 2017)

By: Caitlin Behles | March 29, 2017 - 11:34am
On March 14, 2017, the Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in Achbita v. G4S Secure Solutions NV and Bougnaoui v. Micropole SA that internal work regulations that prohibit visibly wearing political, philosophical or religious signs do not amount to direct discrimination. According to the press release, in Achbita, Samira Achbita was fired from her position as a receptionist for her refusal to stop wearing an Islamic headscarf at a company with regulations that prohibited employees “from wearing any visible signs of their political, philosophical or religious beliefs and/or from engaging in any observance of such beliefs.” The Court found that the regulations applied to all belief systems equally and consequently did “not introduce a difference of treatment that is directly based on religion or belief” for purposes of the EU directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation. The Court also stated that a national court may find the regulation is indirectly discriminatory if it nevertheless results in a particular religion being put at a specific disadvantage, but “such a difference of treatment would not amount to indirect discrimination if it was justified by a legitimate aim and if the means of achieving that aim were appropriate and necessary.”
In Bougnaoui, a French company fired Asma Bougnaoui when she refused their request to stop wearing an Islamic headscarf after a customer complained about it. Here, the question sent from the French Court of Cassation was whether a customer’s wish to not have services provided by someone wearing an Islamic headscarf “may be considered a ‘genuine and determining occupational requirement’ within the meaning of the directive.” The Court noted that “that it is only in very limited circumstances that a characteristic related, in particular, to religion may constitute a genuine and determining occupational requirement” and held “that the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of the directive.”