School assistant loses veil appeal

A Muslim teaching assistant has lost her appeal against an employment tribunal’s decision that not being allowed to wear a veil in the classroom was not discrimination.

Aishah Azmi, 24, was suspended on full pay after staff at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said pupils found it harder to understand her. A Leeds employment tribunal dismissed three of Mrs Azmi’s claims of discrimination and harassment, but found that she was victimised and awarded her £1,000 for “injury to feelings”. A month later, the local education authority sacked her from her post as a bilingual support worker. Mrs Azmi, of Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury, said she was willing to remove her veil in front of children but not when male colleagues were present.

Her lawyer Nick Whittingham said: “The EAT (Employment Appeal Tribunal) has not upheld the appeal.” But Mr Whittingham, of the Kirklees Law Centre, said the EAT accepted that it was possible for direct discrimination to occur in respect of a manifestation of a religious belief such as the wearing of the veil. He said it was an “important test case”.

Press Association, 30 March 2007