French court upholds dismissal over Islamic headscarf

French court upholds dismissal over Islamic headscarf

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
French court upholds dismissal over Islamic headscarf

The director of the private nursery Baby-Loup in Chanteloup-les-Vignes, Natalia Baleato (R), gives a press conference with one of her lawyers Richard Malka in Paris on November 27, 2013 after a judgement by a French court to uphold her dismissal of one of her staff members, who intended to wear an Islamic veil at work. AFP PHOTO

A Paris appeal court Nov. 27 upheld the right of a nursery to fire a female employee who insisted on wearing an Islamic headscarf at work.

In the latest round of a long-running legal battle, the court overturned a controversial March 2013 ruling that the "Baby-Wolf" kindergarten in the Paris suburbs had been guilty of religious discrimination when it dismissed Fatima Afif in 2008.

Afif was sacked after telling her employer that, on her return to work following five years of maternity leave, she wished to wear a headscarf at all times.

The head of the day nursery refused, citing the establishment's rules that employees had to be neutral in terms of philosophy, politics and faith. That led to a stand-off and Afif being made redundant.

Wednesday's verdict supporting the nursery's action was hailed as a landmark decision by supporters of secular education.

But, in reality, it is unlikely to be the end of the case.

Lawyers for Afif said it was "very probable" that they would launch another appeal and she herself has said she is prepared to take her case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

Two earlier rulings, by a works tribunal and a lower level appeal court in Versailles, had both upheld the nursery's case that they were entitled to insist on the children being looked after/educated in an environment free from religious influence.

Those decisions were overturned in March by the Court of Cassation in a ruling which was widely denounced by politicians across the political spectrum as undermining secular education and led to calls for the law to be clarified.

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 in March that the legislation could not be applied to a private nursery and that Afif's right to express her religious faith therefore prevailed.

Wednesday's ruling on Afif's case came as the European Court of Human Rights was due to start considering a challenge to France's so-called burqa ban, a 2011 law which outlaws the wearing of niqabs, veils which cover the full face, in public.