The UK Employment Tribunal has ruled that the dismissal of a nurse for wearing a cross necklace discriminated against her Christian beliefs.
It said on Jan. 5, her firing had been both victimization and harassment.
Christian Concern said that the ruling against a National Health System Trust was a “landmark judgment” and that the Christian Legal Centre supported Mary Onuoha.
Onuoha was removed from her role as an NHS theater practitioner at Croydon University Hospital in South London in June 2020 after facing what she describes as two years of hostility from her superiors and NHS bosses.
In the ruling, Onuoha was told that Croydon Health Services NHS Trust had breached her human rights and created a ‘humiliating, hostile and threatening environment’ for her in which to work.
“Although it isn’t essential for Christians to wear a cross, for some, wearing the cross is an important (and harmless) way to manifest their faith and show that they follow Jesus,” Christian Concern commented after the ruling.
“Now, thanks to this ruling, the freedom to wear it unashamedly as a way of manifesting their faith has been protected.”
Onuoha was told that wearing a cross necklace was in breach of the Trust’s Dress Code and Uniform Policy and that if she failed to remove it, she would face disciplinary action.
When she failed to do so, she was removed from clinical areas and demoted to various administrative roles before resigning in August 2020.
Following legal action against her dismissal, the NHS trust argued that wearing a necklace was an infection risk.
Employment Judge Dyal said: “Applying common sense, it is clear to us that the infection risk posed by a necklace of the sorts the claimant used to wear, when worn by a responsible clinician such as the claimant, who complied with handwashing protocol, was very low.”
The Tribunal found her dismissal was “without reasonable and proper cause.”
The judgment noted the importance of allowing Christians to be open about their faith based on biblical teaching, adding that “stopping Christians from displaying the cross has been a feature of wider persecution campaigns” worldwide.
NO PROPER CAUSE
The Tribunal also found that Croydon Health Services NHS Trust constructively dismissed Onuoha “without reasonable and proper cause” and that the dismissal was unfair and discriminatory.
Furthermore, it ruled that the dress code policy was “applied in an arbitrary way and in a way that was not proportionate.”
The Tribunal said there was “no cogent explanation” why plain rings, neckties, kalava bracelets, hijabs, and turbans were permitted, but a cross necklace was not.
One of the most concerning parts of Onuoha’s case was how she reported being harassed for wearing the cross necklace by a senior manager while caring for a patient under general anesthetic in the operating theater, said Chrisitan Concern.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which represented Onuoha, said: “We are delighted that the Tribunal has ruled in Mary’s favor and delivered justice in this case. Shirley Chaplin, who also fought for the freedom to wear a cross necklace 10 years ago, has also now been vindicated.
‘AN ASTONISHING EXPERIENCE’
“It was astonishing that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, was forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves,” said Williams.
Onuoha grew up in Nigeria, and was determined to become a nurse after one of her brothers tragically died from measles due to a lack of medical provision.
She same to the UK in 1988 and fulfied her ambition, and worked at Croydon University Hospital for 19 years.
Each day she wore the cross around her neck without any complaints or health and safety concerns from colleagues or patients.
From 2015, however, a succession of line managers asked Onuoha to either remove her cross , conceal it, or face “escalation.”
Each time Onuoha politely declined the requests, according to Christian Concern, explaining that her necklace is a symbol of her deeply held Christian faith and that she had worn it at work for many years.
The issue escalated in August 2018 when bosses at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust ordered her to remove the cross saying it was a breach of the Trust’s Dress Code and Uniform Policy and therefore a health risk to her and to patients.