French woman's dimissal for wearing headscarf was "direct discrimination", European court told

Asma Bougnaoui was dismissed from her job at an IT company in 2009

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Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / AP/Press Association Images

A recommendation to the European Court of Justice has said that a French woman was discriminated against when she was dismissed for wearing an Islamic headscarf at work.

Asma Bougnaoui lost her job at IT company Micopole SA in 2009, less than a year after being hired.

Employees at one of Micropole's client companies claimed Ms Bougnaoui's hijab made them "embarrassed."

In their dismissal letter, the company said it had informed Ms Bougnaoui that "since you would be in contact internally or externally with the company’s clients, you would not be able to wear the veil in all circumstances".

The letter added that it was "impossible" for her to carry out her functions if she insisted on wearing the headscarf.

In a preliminary opinion published today, European Court of Justice Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston concluded that Ms Bougnaoui’s dismissal amounted to "direct discrimination on the round of religion or belief."

In her preliminary opinion - which is not binding - Advocate General Sharpston said: "It seems to me that in the vast majority of cases it will be possible, on the basis of a sensible discussion between the employer and the employee, to reach an accommodation that reconciles adequately the competing rights of the employee to manifest his or her religion and the employer to conduct his business.

"Occasionally, however, that may not be possible. In the last resort, the business interest in generating maximum profit should then in my view give way to the right of the individual employee to manifest his religious convictions."

She also argues that restrictions on wearing religious apparel that fully covers the eyes and face while performing a job involving contact with customers "would be proportionate."

However, she adds that "where the employee seeks to wear only some form of headgear that leaves the face and eyes entirely clear, I can see no justification for prohibiting the wearing of that headgear".

Judges at the European court will now consider the case.