The firing of a nurse for wearing a cross necklace discriminated against her Christian beliefs, a tribunal has ruled.
In a landmark ruling, the Employment Tribunal declared that Mary Onuoha's dismissal had been both victimisation and harassment.
In the ruling, Onuoha was told that Croydon Health Services NHS Trust had breached her human rights and created a 'humiliating, hostile and threatening environment' for her to work in.
Onuoha was removed from her role as an NHS theatre practitioner at Croydon University Hospital in South London in June 2020 after facing what she describes as two years of hostility from her superiors and NHS bosses.
She was told that wearing a cross necklace was in breach of the Trust's Dress Code and Uniform Policy and that if she failed to remove it she would face disciplinary action. When she failed to do so she was removed from clinical areas and demoted to various administrative roles before resigning in August 2020.
Following legal action against her dismissal, the NHS trust argued that the wearing of a necklace was an infection risk - a claim the tribunal has since ruled as "very low".
Employment Judge Dyal said: "Applying common sense, it is clear to us that the infection risk posed by a necklace of the sorts the Claimant used to wear, when worn by a responsible clinician such as the Claimant, who complied with handwashing protocol, was very low."
The Tribunal criticised the Trust for failing to consider Onuoha's religious rights or consistently apply its dress code policy when plain rings, hijabs, turbans and religious bracelets were permitted. Subsequently, it found her dismissal to be "without reasonable and proper cause".
The judgement noted the importance of allowing Christians to be open about their faith based on biblical teaching, adding that "stopping Christians from displaying the cross has been a feature of wider persecution campaigns" across the world.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which represented Onuoha said: "We are delighted that the Tribunal have ruled in Mary's favour and delivered justice in this case. Shirley Chaplin, who also fought for the freedom to wear a cross necklace 10 years ago has also now been vindicated.
"It was astonishing that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, was forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves.
"I hope Sajid Javid pays attention. It would be easy to amend the guidance to clarify that the wearing of crosses by medical staff must be permitted."
In a statement to Premier, a spokesperson for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: “We would like to apologise to Mrs Onuoha and thank the Employment Tribunal panel for their careful consideration of this matter.
“It is important that NHS staff feel able to express their beliefs, and that our policies are applied in a consistent, compassionate and inclusive way.
“Since this matter in 2019, our dress code and uniform policy has been updated with the support of the Trust’s staff networks and trade union representatives to ensure it is inclusive and sensitive to all religious and cultural needs, while maintaining effective infection prevention and control measures and protecting the safety of our patients and staff. However, we will carry out a further review of our policy and practices in light of this judgment.”