Muslim teacher at centre of veil row loses claim for religious discrimination

The Muslim school teacher suspended after refusing to take off her veil has lost her case for religious discrimination.

Aishah Azmi, 23, was asked to remove the veil after the Church of England school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said pupils found it hard to understand her.

She refused and was suspended from her job as ethnic minority achievement curriculum support assistant. She then brought a claim of unfair dismissal on grounds of religious discrimination and harassment on religious grounds.

The 2003 Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations ban discrimination on religious grounds unless “an employer has an ethos based on religion or belief” and it can be justified as a “genuine occupational requirement”.

Azmi lost her case but was awarded £1,100 for injury to feelings after the tribunal found Kirklees Council guilty of creating an environment that had led to her being victimised.

The council said the decision to ask Azmi to remove her veil, or niqab, was taken after a monitoring period in which they studied the impact of wearing the veil on the teaching and learning.

“In this case, the school and local authority had to balance the rights of the children to receive the best quality education possible and Mrs Azmi’s desire to express her cultural beliefs by wearing a veil in class,” a council spokesman said. “The education of the children is of paramount importance and it is disappointing that the school was unable to reach a compromise with Mrs Azmi in this case.”

However, Azmi refused to accept the decision of the tribunal, saying it made her “fearful of the consequences for Muslim women in this country who want to work”.

She criticised the politicians, including Tony Blair and race minister Phil Woolas, who supported the school throughout the case.

“Muslim women who wear the veils are not aliens, and politicians need to recognise that what they say can have a very dangerous impact on the lives of the minorities they treat as outcasts,” she said.

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