A Christian nurse who told how she was ‘victimised’ by NHS bosses who created a ‘humiliating, hostile and threatening environment’ for her to work in after they took issue with her cross necklace has won an employment tribunal against the service. Mary Onuoha was told that she had been singled out by chiefs at Croydon University Hospital NHS Trust for refusing to remove her small gold cross.
The Tribunal ruled there was “no cogent explanation” why other items of jewellery and clothing were allowed, but a “fine necklace with a small pendant of religious devotional significance is not”.
Its ruling said that the hospital trust had breached the Nigerian-born nurses’s human rights and created a “humiliating, hostile and threatening environment for her to work in. Mrs Onuoha had worked at the hospital for 19 years before she felt forced out of her role as a theatre practitioner in June 2020. She said she left after a two-year campaign ‘against her’. The trust had tried to argue that the necklace the Christian nurse wore was an infection risk and had persisted in trying to force her to remove it.
In a statement, Mrs Onuoha said: “This has always been an attack on my faith. My cross has been with me for 40 years. It is part of me, and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm. At this hospital, there are members of staff who go to a mosque four times a day and no one says anything to them, Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre.
“Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job. I am a strong woman but I have been treated like a criminal.”
Judge Dyal was in charge of the case against the Croydon Trust and said that the necklace posed a “very low” risk of passing on infections. The ruling read: “Applying commonsense, it is clear to us that the infection risk posed by a necklace of the sort the claimant used to wear, when worn by a responsible clinician such as the claimant who complied with hand-washing protocol, was very low.”
The Tribunal said the Trust had failed to grapple with the complexity of the issue when dealing with the Christian nurse. They said: “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.”
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