NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER – A Catholic nurse was unfairly dismissed by a U.K. hospital trust for wearing a cross necklace, an employment tribunal ruled this week.
In a decision published on Jan. 5, the tribunal said that the trust’s treatment of Mary Onuoha was “directly discriminatory.”
The campaign group Christian Concern hailed the verdict as a “landmark ruling” strengthening the legal principle that employers cannot discriminate against employees for “reasonable manifestations” of faith in the workplace.
Onuoha was forced to leave her job with National Health Service (NHS) at Croydon University Hospital in south London in June 2020, after a two-year battle with her employers over wearing the cross.
With support from the Christian Legal Center, Christian Concern’s legal ministry, she took her case against Croydon Health Services NHS Trust to an employment tribunal.
At a hearing in October 2021, the trust argued that the cross necklace had presented an infection risk. But the tribunal concluded that the risk was “very low.”
It added that there was “no cogent explanation” of why religious head coverings such as hijabs and turbans were permitted under the dress code and uniform policy, but “a fine necklace with a small pendant of religious devotional significance is not.”
Christian Concern said that Onuoha, who was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.K. in 1988, was delighted and relieved by the ruling.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Center, commented: “From the beginning, this case has been about the high-handed attack from the NHS bureaucracy on the right of a devoted and industrious nurse to wear a cross — the worldwide, recognized and cherished symbol of the Christian faith. It is very uplifting to see the tribunal acknowledge this truth.”
“It was astonishing that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, was forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves,” Williams said.
“Any employer will now have to think very carefully before restricting wearing of crosses in the workplace. You can only do that on specific and cogent health and safety grounds. It is not enough to apply general labels such as ‘infection risk’ or ‘health and safety.’”
The U.K. has seen a number of high-profile cases of employers demanding that employees remove or cover cross necklaces.
But the court declined to support Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was told by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust hospital not to wear a cross necklace, on health and safety grounds, that she had worn to work for 30 years.
“We are delighted that the tribunal have ruled in Mary’s favor and delivered justice in this case,” Williams said.
“Shirley Chaplin, who also fought for the freedom to wear a cross necklace 10 years ago, has also now been vindicated.”
CNA Staff: © 2021 EWTN News, Inc. Reprinted with permission from the National Catholic Register – www.ncregister.com.