Tribunal rules UK hospital unfairly dismissed Nigerian nurse Mary Onuoha for wearing cross necklace

An employment tribunal has ruled that Mary Onuoha, a theatre practitioner at Croydon University Hospital, Surrey, UK was unfairly dismissed.

Onuoha claimed she was victimised for wearing a necklace with a Christian cross at work. She wore it both in and out of work as a symbol of her religious devotion.

But Croydon Health Services NHS Trust’s uniform policy prohibited the wearing of necklaces in clinical areas on the basis that they could be a health and safety risk.

Onuoha, a Catholic, was asked to remove her necklace in 2014, 13 years after she began working at the hospital. She refused for religious reasons, and refused again when the issue was raised again in 2015 and 2016, reports Guardian.

The Nigerian resigned in 2020 after being suspended from clinical duties and demoted to working as a receptionist.

According to her, the trust had breached her right to religion under article 9 of the European convention on human rights. She added that her treatment was religious discrimination, harassment and victimisation under the 2010 Equality Act.

Onuoha said: “My cross has been with me for 40 years. It is part of me, and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm.

“At this hospital there are members of staff who go to a mosque four times a day and no one says anything to them. Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre.

“Yet my small 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.”

Ruling on Wednesday, the tribunal said the wearing of jewellery, including necklaces, was “rife” among the trust’s workforce and was “widely tolerated” by management.

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