A German dental practice which refused to hire a young Muslim woman because she insisted on wearing a headscarf at work broke the law, it was reported on Thursday. The court ruling is the first of its kind for the country.
A young Berlin woman applied last summer for a traineeship to become a dental assistant. Despite being qualified and getting along with staff, she was told that she could not have the position unless she removed her headscarf, the Tagesspiegel newspaper said.
This was religious discrimination, the city's labour court ruled. A headscarf was not an "arbitrary piece of clothing" but an expression of her beliefs and wearing it was part of her right to religious freedom. Refusing to employ because of her headscarf was in breach of the Equal Treatment Act, the judge said.
The court also rejected the suggestion that headscarves could pose a hygiene risk to patients. There was no more chance of transferring bacteria with a scarf than there was via human hair, the judge said.
The Spandau-based dental surgery argued that they had a right to religious neutrality in the clinic. But the judge said that as "it was in no way a religious institution," this was not valid.
Other women who had appealed for the right to wear a headscarf at work have lost in the past, generally because they had taken church-related employers to court.
The woman applied for the position in the summer of 2011. When she was rejected she decided, with help from the Turkish Association of Berlin and Brandenburg, to take the practice to court.
See also "German court rules in favor of headscarf freedom", Today's Zaman, 18 October 2012