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Stib must pay €50,000 to woman with headscarf who was not hired

17:04 06/05/2021

Brussels public transport service Stib must pay €51,000 in damages to a Muslim woman it refused to hire because she said she would need to wear her headscarf at work. The labour court in Brussels also told Stib to reform its hiring practices, which it says are discriminatory.

In 2019, a Muslim woman with a degree in law was recruited by an interim agency to apply for two jobs at Stib, one as a legal officer and one as a business analyst. According to Belgium’s federal and French-speaking human rights organisations, who filed the complaint on behalf of the woman, she was perfectly suited for both functions.

In her interviews, the woman made it clear that she would wear her headscarf at work; neither job brought her in contact with the public. According to the human rights organisations, she was received enthusiastically for the job interviews, but was ultimately not hired for either job.

Stib is considering whether it will appeal the ruling, which forces them to pay the woman nearly €51,000. “Even if they appeal, they have been told to revisit their recruitment policies,” Imane El Morabet of federal human rights agency Unia told Bruzz. “The judge was very clear: A general ban on the wearing of religious symbols in the workplace has the greatest impact on women. This is discrimination on the grounds of belief and of gender.”

Interpreting ‘neutral’

According to Belgian law, public service employees must be ‘neutral’ when carrying out their jobs, not being influence by political or religious affiliations when serving the public. How to interpret ‘neutral’ is not specified.

According to Unia, there are two interpretations of neutrality. ‘Exclusive neutrality’ prohibits all religious and philosophical symbols. This is the case at Stib. ‘Inclusive neutrality’ does allow for religious or philosophical symbols, with the idea that civil servants representing the government should reflect a diverse society.

“The judge has said that anyone who wants to maintain exclusive neutrality must have good reasons for doing so,” said El Morabet. “But it’s only by applying inclusive neutrality that we can achieve inclusion in the workplace.”

As for Stib, it said in 2019, when the case was filed: “If someone isn’t recruited, it’s because the person in question does not have the necessary skills for the job.”

Photo: Stib’s headquarters in central Brussels
©Stib

 

Written by Lisa Bradshaw