The opening shots in a £34,000 employment battle between a pink-haired salon owner and a headscarf-wearing Muslim stylist were fired yesterday with an accusation of “blatant” religious discrimination.
Bushra Noah, 19, is claiming that amount in compensation after being turned down for a job at the Wedge salon, which specialises in “urban, edgy and funky” cuts.
Owner Sarah Desrosiers, 32, says it is an “absolutely basic” job requirement that stylists should have their hair on show if they are to cut other people’s. She says she faces financial ruin if she loses the case.
But Miss Noah argued: “I know my punk from my funk and my urban from my trendy.
“The fact that I wear a headscarf does not mean that I cannot assist in an alternative form of hairdressing. It is essential to my religion and is non-negotiable. I have been wearing it from the age of 13 and I had never suffered from such blatant discrimination until I visited Miss Desrosiers.”
Miss Noah, who is British-born and lives in Acton, West London, admitted she had been turned down by other salons since the interview in March last year, but denied she had been rejected for up to 25 jobs.
She told a tribunal in central London how her interview at Wedge, at King’s Cross, left her devastated.
She said: “Miss Desrosiers looked at me in shock. She asked me if I wore my headscarf all the time and I explained that I did. She asked me if I ever took it off and I said that I only took it off at home.
“She said as this is a hair salon it was essential that I did not wear a headscarf. Miss Desrosiers then said how uncomfortable she felt with me being around. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I was extremely offended.
“It was hard to hold myself together and I was gripping the chair as I spoke.
“Miss Desrosiers told me I should have told her over the phone that I wore a headscarf.”
Miss Noah, who has an NVQ in hairdressing and once won a L’Oreal competition, said she wore her headscarf while cutting hair in another salon for two years until leaving in June 2006 to get married in Syria.
She said: “I understand that Miss Desrosiers has more than one tattoo on her body but that should not mean that anyone who works for her has to be a similar way and type.”
Miss Noah originally claimed over £15,000 in compensation for injury to her feelings and lost earnings. But she more than doubled her claim after coverage of the case, saying she had received hate mail.
Speaking ahead of the hearing, Miss Desrosiers, from Hackney, East London, said she was “staggered” by the scale of the claim.
“This court case has turned my life upside down and it is all over a quick, five-minute interview,” she said.
“This girl is suing me for more than I earn in a year. I am a small business and have only had my salon a year and a half. I am prepared to stand up in court but if I lose this lawsuit, my whole business will fold.
“To me, it’s absolutely basic that people should be able to see the stylist’s hair. It has nothing to do with religion.
“I now feel like I have been branded a racist. I have never discriminated against Muslims. My name is being dragged through the mud.”
The hearing is due to last three days.
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