When Bushra Noah interviewed for a job as a hair stylist at Wedge, a trendy salon in central London, owner Sarah Desrosiers quickly determined that she was not right for the post. Wedge specializes in "funky, urban" cuts, which Desrosiers expects her employees to sport as a kind of walking advertisement. However, Noah wears a headscarf and insisted that she would not be removing it, at work or otherwise.
Soon after being turned down, Noah sued Desrosiers for discrimination. Noah testified that "I was so depressed after my interview with Miss Desrosiers that I decided to try a different career. Having dreamed of being a hairdresser since an early age, this was a big decision for me." Last week the court ordered Desrosiers to pay Noah £4,000 — roughly $8,000 — for "hurt feelings":
Yesterday the central London employment tribunal backed [Ms. Noah's] complaint of indirect discrimination.
Ms. Desrosiers, 32, said: "I feel it is a bit steep for what actually happened. It's really scary for a small business.
"I never in a million years dreamt that somebody would be completely against the display of hair and be in this industry. I don't feel I deserve it."
The panel found Desrosiers not guilty of direct discrimination, satisfied that "Bushra was not treated less favorably than Sarah would have treated any woman who, whether Muslim or not, wears a hair covering at all times when at work." But while she pursued legitimate aims in attempting to advance the salon's image, Desrosiers failed to prove that her actions were proportionate — that an employee who wears a headscarf would negatively impact a business focused on hair.
It could have been worse: Noah filed a compensation claim of £15,000 and quickly upped it to £34,000. Still, a reduced fine is of little comfort to Desrosiers, who already struggles to pay her bills and has lost considerable income preparing for the case. More broadly, she recognizes that the judgment against her has opened a Pandora's Box of litigation that she and other business owners must navigate:
As for the notion that I've injured her feelings — well, people's feelings get injured every day. I dread to think the sorts of things that people will try to claim injured feelings for now that this precedent has been set.
To Islamists, such dread is worth considerably more than £4,000.