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Nigerian nurse sues UK hospital for persecution over cross necklace

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A Nigerian theatre nurse Mary Onuoha has sued former employer at Croydon University Hospital for victimising her on the grounds that her ‘small’ cross necklace posed a health and safety risk to patients and staff.

Onuoha, 61, who had worked with the Croydon University Hospital, claimed she was ‘singled out’ and
‘persecuted’ for her religion, after being ordered to conceal or remove her gold cross, while others
wore their jewelry and accessories without any harassment from the hospital’s management.

“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. Patients often say to me, “I really like your cross” and they always respond to it in a positive way
and that gives me joy and makes me feel happy.

“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,
but I have been treated like a criminal. I love my job, but I am not prepared to compromise my faith for it,” Onuha said.

As a result of her refusal to remove the necklace, Onuoha claimed she was “treated like a criminal,” investigated, suspended from clinical duties, demoted to a receptionist and was left with no alternative than to resign later in the later part of 2020.

As the hearing at Croydon Employment Tribunal opened on Tuesday, counsel for the hospital Ben Jones told the court that necklaces presented possible hazards to patients and staff.

“If someone were to grab it, it might cut the back of your neck. Necklace clasps are a bit fiddly and sometimes, they might fall off,” Jones explained.

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He added that Onuoha had drawn the conclusion that she was “being picked on” because she was a Christian, but said she was instead confronted over her necklace because she was “a nurse wearing
something they shouldn’t.”

Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre Andrea Williams, representing Onuoha, said that the hospital had argued that one or two members of staff were being offended by her wearing of the cross
and wondered why some National Health Service (NHS) employers would feel that the cross was less worthy of protection or display than other religious attire.

“It is upsetting that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, has been forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves. How Mary was treated over a sustained period was appalling and cannot go unchallenged,” Williams said.

Her lawyers claim that the hospital had breached Onuoha’s freedom to manifest her faith under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights and the Equality Act.

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