The EAT, in the highly publicised case of Azmi v Kirklees Metropolitan Council, has rejected a teacher’s claim of religious discrimination based on a management instruction not to wear a veil while she was teaching. Mrs Azmi was employed to teach children learning English as a second language for which communicating fully with the children was of the utmost importance. The council believed that when she wore the veil the children could not see her facial expressions and her diction was not as clear or loud as it needed to be.
The EAT upheld the finding of the tribunal that the instruction did not amount to direct discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief as she had not established that she had been less favourably treated than the appropriate comparator ie a non- Muslim employee who had covered their face while teaching. It could amount to indirect discrimination but was lawful, being proportionate in support of a legitimate aim.
This case provides an interesting example of balancing the interests of the school and local authority in providing the best quality education possible and Mrs Azmi's desire to express her religious beliefs by wearing a veil in class.