Milan court rules on discrimination against hijab wearer

Company ordered to pay compensation.

Milan court of appeal has ordered an event management company to pay €500 compensation to a young woman whose job application was rejected because she wore a hijab, the Islamic headscarf which leaves the face uncovered.

Three years ago, the woman identified only as “Sara”, who was 21 at the time, replied to a job offer advertisement for a position as hostess at Milan’s MICam shoe fair. Her work was to be distributing leaflets to fair visitors.

A Muslim born in Italy to Egyptian parents, she enclosed a photo of herself wearing a hijab. In an exchange of emails, the company asked whether she was prepared to dispense with the headscarf. Sara replied that she would not, on religious grounds, but that she was prepared to match its colour to the rest of her uniform.

When the company rejected her application, Sara took them to court, charging them with religious and gender discrimination. The company defended its decision, stating that one consideration for acceptance was having “long, voluminous hair” which would have been hidden by the hijab. Dissatisfied with the ruling of the first court case in favour of the event management company, Sara lodged an appeal and was this week awarded a victory.

This is an important sentence,” noted her defence lawyer Alberto Guariso of the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration, “because it recognised the right to religious identity as an essential element of democratic societies. It must always be guaranteed even if this means sacrificing other demands by the employer with are not as relevant, such as aesthetic [considerations].”