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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Veil row assistant loses appeal
Aishah Azmi speaking at a press conference
The 24-year-old insists the veil is not a communication barrier
A Muslim classroom assistant sacked for refusing to remove her veil in lessons has lost an appeal against a ruling that she was not discriminated against.

Aishah Azmi, 24, was asked to remove the veil after Headfield Church of England School in Dewsbury, West Yorks, said pupils could not understand her.

Mrs Azmi refused and was sacked after an employment tribunal ruled she was not the victim of discrimination.

She had not contested the sacking, but claimed religious discrimination.

'Leave it alone'

Her case against Kirklees Council was considered by the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) in London.

After the ruling, Kirklees Council said it and the school were disappointed that Mrs Azmi had decided to pursue her appeal.

A spokeswoman said: "The decision from the employment tribunal in Leeds was a fair, considered and appropriate judgement and the council is satisfied that the EAT has supported that approach and that ruling."

Labour MP Shahid Malik said he hoped Mrs Azmi would now "leave this alone".

"Having said that, she can still, and maybe has already, put in an appeal for unfair dismissal. This saga could continue", he said.

Awarded damages

In October last year, an employment tribunal dismissed Mrs Azmi's three claims for discrimination and harassment, although it did agree she had been victimised by Kirklees Council, the local education authority.

She was awarded 1,100 in damages.

Mrs Azmi, from Thornhill Lees, Dewsbury, had said she was willing to remove her veil in front of children, but not if male colleagues were present.

The school and authority argued that pupils needed to see her face to understand what she was saying in lessons.

Mrs Azmi's lawyer Nick Whittingham said she was not available for comment but he said the EAT accepted it was possible for direct discrimination to occur in respect of a manifestation of a religious belief such as the wearing of the veil.

'Important case'

"This will apply to manifestations of religion such as wearing the veil, a cross, the wearing the hijab or other religious symbols or clothing," he said.

"The EAT rejected the employer's argument that all discrimination on the basis of such manifestations can potentially be justified as indirect discrimination."

He said: "However, the EAT found that in this particular case there had not been direct discrimination against Ms Azmi.

"The EAT found that there had been indirect discrimination but that [on the facts of this case] the school had justified their actions.

"Outside the direct teaching environment, employers will not be able to rely on the decision of the EAT as a precedent permitting them to discriminate against those wearing the veil.

"They may have to defend discrimination claims."

He added that no legal aid money was spent in bringing the appeal "in this important test case".

He said Mrs Azmi's barrister, Declan O'Dempsey, carried out the work for her tribunal case and the appeal free of charge.

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