BERLIN - A German court has ruled against a dentist who had refused to employ a veiled Muslim woman because she declined to remove her headscarf, blaming him for breaching the Equal Treatment Act.
"The dentist broke the law because he refused the plaintiff the position only because she didn't want to take off her headscarf," the spokesman for the Berlin industrial tribunal said, UPI news agency reported on Friday, October 19.
Applying for an assistant job in his dental practices, the anonymous woman was asked by the dentist to remove the veil to get the job.
Condemning the move as against non-discrimination laws, the woman took the issue to the court.
At the hearing, the dentist had acknowledged the woman was qualified for the position but argued his refusal to employ her stemmed from the right to religious neutrality.
The court ordered the dentist to pay 1,500 euros ($1,966) in damages to the young Muslim woman.
Though the decision was made last March, it was only reported by the court last Thursday.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper said the decision was a first, and that the court had insisted the headscarf was not optional but an expression of religious belief, which was unaffected by the fact some Muslims chose not to wear it.
Germany has 15.1-million strong population of immigrants and their descendants, out of the country's 82 total population.
The country is believed to be home to nearly 4 million Muslims, including 220,000 in Berlin alone. Turks make up an estimated two thirds of the Muslim minority.
An earlier study showed that women and immigrants were more likely to get a job interview if applications were made without names.
The court decision won applauds from the federal office for fighting discrimination.
"It clearly says that women cannot be discriminated against in their access to employment because of their religious convictions," its chief, Christine Lueders, said in a written statement issued Thursday.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
The Islamic headscarf has been the subject in recent years of heated political debate in Germany.
The federal constitutional court, the country's top tribunal, has ruled that each of Germany's 16 states has the right to make its own law on whether to permit teachers to wear the Muslim headscarf in public schools.
Around half of German states have already banned hijab for school teachers.
In its 2009 report "Discrimination in the Name of Neutrality: Headscarf Bans for Teachers and Civil Servants in Germany", Human Rights Watch said that laws banning teachers from wearing hijab in Germany discriminate against Muslim women.