A Christian nurse who lost her job because she refused to remove a cross necklace has won a major legal case before a British employment tribunal.
Mary Onuoha was a nurse employed by Croydon Health Services in 2018 when she was asked to remove a necklace that bears a small gold cross. Onuoha, who is Christian, refused, saying the cross is an important public display of her faith and that she had been wearing a cross since she was young. Her legal representative, Christian Legal Centre, noted that other medical staff were permitted to continue wearing jewelry even as she was told to remove her necklace.
The hospital alleged that the necklace presented a health risk and disciplined Onuoha by demoting her to non-clinical duties. After she was given a final warning for failing to remove the cross necklace, she resigned in 2020 and sued Croydon Health Services, alleging it had violated her freedom of religion.
This week, an employment tribunal sided with Onuoha, saying the hospital had “directly discriminated against and harassed” her.
“Wearing jewellery including necklaces was rife among the Respondent’s workforce,” a summary of the decision said. “Many doctors and nurses continued to do it even during the period in which the Claimant was being disciplined. This was widely tolerated by management.
“The Respondent allowed its employees to wear other items of religious apparel (including headscarves, turbans and kalava bracelets) that had broadly comparable risk profiles in terms of health and safety as a Cross-Necklace,” the summary said. “There was no proper explanation as to why those items were permitted, but a Cross-Necklace was not.”
In a news release, the Christian Legal Center said the case “develops a wider legal principle” that “employers cannot discriminate against employees for reasonable manifestations of faith in the workplace.”
“From the beginning, this case has been about the high-handed attack from the NHS bureaucracy on the right of a devoted and industrious nurse to wear a cross – the worldwide, recognised and cherished symbol of the Christian faith,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre. “It is very uplifting to see the Tribunal acknowledge this truth. It was astonishing that an experienced nurse, during a pandemic, was forced to choose between her faith and the profession she loves.”
Photo courtesy: Pixabay
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.