The hospital where Mary Onuoha worked asked her to remove her collar, but she refused for religious reasons.
A nurse at a hospital in Surrey, England, won a job discrimination case on the grounds that she was fired from her job for wearing a necklace with a small gold cross.
Mary Onuoha, a Catholic nurse employed by Croydon University Hospital, was first asked to remove her collar in 2014. The hospital claimed it issued the request based on National Health Service policy according to which wearing necklaces represents a risk to health and safety.
After several attempts to get her to stop wearing the symbol of her faith, the hospital demoted her and reassigned her to the job of receptionist. She resigned in 2020, having worked there as a nurse for 18 years. Onuoha then filed charges saying she was unfairly dismissed and the hospital violated the free expression of her religion under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The labor court that issued the ruling found that employees routinely wore jewelry in the hospital and that it was “widely tolerated” by hospital management. Other religious jewelry and accessories such as scarves and turbans were frequently worn by hospital staff, the court found.
In addition, Onuoha was required to wear several cords around his neck containing ID badges and passes.
“There was no proper explanation as to why these items were allowed, but a crossover collar was not,” the ruling said.
The panel found that “common sense” dictated that the risk of infection from its cross was “very low,” reported the Evening Standard.
According to the Guardian, Onuoha, who grew up in Nigeria, said: “My cross has been with me for 40 years. It’s part of me and my faith, and it never hurt anyone.
“In this hospital, there are staff members who go to the mosque four times a day and no one tells them anything. Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and Muslim women wear the hijab in the theater.
“Yet my little cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job. I am a strong woman, but I have been treated like a criminal.
While the court found that the hospital discriminated against Onuoha, it said it did not “deliberately target the cross as a symbol of the Christian faith.”
Christian Legal Center, a group that supported Onuoha in his case, said the case was a victory for religious freedom.
Andrea Williams, Executive Director of the Christian Legal Center, said: “From the beginning this case has involved one or two staff members offended by the cross – the worldwide, recognized and cherished symbol of the Christian faith.
“It is heartbreaking that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, was forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves,” she said.
An NHS spokesperson told The Standard he would review the health agency’s jewelry policy.
“We would like to apologize to Ms. Onuoha and thank the labor tribunal panel for their careful consideration of this case,” he said.