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UK tribunal rules in favour of Nigerian nurse harassed for wearing cross necklace

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AN Employment Tribunal in Croydon, South London, has ruled in favour of a Nigerian Catholic theatre nurse Mary Onuoha, who was harassed out of her job of 18 years for wearing a small cross necklace.

Onuoha, 61, who had worked with the Croydon University Hospital, claimed she was ‘singled out’ and ordered to conceal or remove her gold cross which she had worn for over 40 years on the ground that it posed a health and safety risk to patients and staff, forcing her to resign in June 2020.


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Employment judge Daniel Dyal said that the persecution she faced created a ‘humiliating, hostile and threatening environment’ for the nurse, while breaching her human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

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“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. Equally, no real thought was given to the claimant’s point that others were wearing religious apparel in clinical areas and that she should be treated equally to them,” Dyal noted.

The ruling added that the trust had failed to properly deal with Onuoha’s grievances when she refused to remove the cross on religious grounds and that the dress code policy was ‘arbitrary’ and provided no clear reason why numerous items such as plain rings, ties, hijabs and turbans were allowed but crosses were not.

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.”

The spokesperson for the trust added that since this matter in 2019, the organisation had reviewed and updated its dress code and uniform policy with the support of  staff networks and trade union representatives to ensure it was inclusive and sensitive to all religious and cultural needs, while maintaining effective infection prevention, safety and control measures for patients and staff.

Onuoha, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, was said to be ‘delighted and relieved’ following the ruling.

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