Brussels company fined 50,000 Euros for discriminating a hijabi woman

Labour court concluded that the company rejected a Muslim woman’s job application because of her faith and gender.
A Muslim woman wearing a hijab applied for an administrative job at Brussels Intercommunal Transport Company (STIB-MIVB), but her application was rejected twice.

A labour court in Brussels ruled that the law has been violated as the woman was not only subjected to direct religious discrimination but also indirect gender discrimination. Slamming the STIB-MIVB’s conduct, the court ordered the company to compensate the aggrieved candidate with at least 50,000 Euros.

The decision was announced on Wednesday by Unia, a Brussels-based NGO. They took the matter to court along with the Human Rights League (LDH). They argued that STIB-MIVB refused to hire the woman in 2015 and 2016, although she possessed the technical skills required for the advertised role.

“In practice, this means that she will no longer be allowed to be discriminated against as before,” said Els Keytsman, a member of Unia, welcoming the decision.

According to the LDH, the recruitment agencies told the complainant that STIB-MIVB follows the “policy of neutrality,” which means its staff is not allowed to carry any visible religious, convictional, political, philosophical symbols. In light of that policy, she was told she would have to remove her headscarf if she was hired at the company.

During the interview, the complainant turned her traditional headscarf into a turban but she was told that headcovers are not allowed no matter how they are worn. After that, she never heard from the recruiter.

Defending its policy, the company claimed that the woman wasn’t rejected because of her headwear.

Court says the company doesn’t apply equal treatment

The judge, on the other hand, said the STIB-MIVB’s so-called neutrality policy is not carried out coherently and justly, emphasising the employer’s partisanship should not dictate the policy of hiring or lead to any sort of discrimination.

Instead, the court said, STIB-MIVB’s policy harms the objective of diversity — also a key value of the company.

“Today, an employee is not authorized to wear a headscarf, while a male colleague is authorized to wear a beard. STIB will have to closely examine this policy and will no longer be authorized to apply the principles of exclusive neutrality,” said Unia’s Kslaeytsman.

Beards are often worn by men of faith. They also manifest signs of political leaning or ideological conviction.

For the court, the case also symbolised indirect discrimination based on the gender of the complainant.

The labour court’s ruling could have far-reaching consequences for STIB. The company has now been told to change its staff recruitment policy and exclude the principle of neutrality.

But the decision also carries significant weight for the country’s Muslims. Belgium is a country where women in hijab have been pushed to the edge. Thousands of people protested when a ruling by Belgium’s Constitutional Court banned headscarves in higher education in July last year.

In January this year, however, the Muslim community celebrated the lifting of the ban on headscarves and other religious symbols in universities. The decision was taken by local officials in the French-speaking Wallonia region.

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