Headscarves and Discrimination before the Court of Justice of the European Union

The European Union's Employment Equality Directive prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees on grounds of religion. Under this law, treating a worker less favourably is direct discrimination and illegal, with very limited exceptions.

The EU's top court, the  Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), has been asked to interpret this law in two cases, each about a Muslim woman dismissed by a private sector employer because she wore a religious headscarf at work.

In the first cases to reach the Court of Justice on the question of religious discrimination, national courts in Belgium and France have asked whether the dismissals were direct discrimination or whether exceptions to the Employment Equality Directive allow such dismissals.

This briefing paper explains the legal background to the cases, and the likely implications of the CJEU's decision.