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Christian nurse punished for wearing cross necklace to work wins religious discrimination case

Mary Onuoha
Mary Onuoha |

A British tribunal has ruled that a Christian nurse who was forced to resign from a hospital over her refusal to stop wearing a cross was wrongfully discriminated against.

The Employment Tribunal ruled Wednesday that Mary Onuoha had been mistreated by the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust when they demanded that he stop wearing a cross to work.

The tribunal rejected the hospital's claim that the cross necklace presented a high infection risk, noting that other items like rings and hijabs were permitted at the facility.

“There is no evidence to show that the infection risk they posed was lower than the Cross-Necklace,” stated the tribunal. “There is no cogent explanation as to why these items are permitted but a fine necklace with a small pendant of religious devotional significance is not.”

Mary Onuoha
Mary Onuoha seen working at South London's Croydon University Hospital in this undated photo. |

The tribunal went on to note that Onuoha “was not just wearing a necklace. It was a Cross-Necklace that was a manifestation of religious belief and not a mere fashion accessory.”

“Subjectively, from the Claimant’s point of view, that created an offensive and threatening environment,” they added. “The conduct was clearly unwanted. The Claimant simply wanted to get on with her job whilst wearing her Cross-Necklace.”

Christian Concern, a London-based group whose partner organization, the Christian Legal Centre, helped represent Onuoha, released a statement on Wednesday celebrating the ruling.

“We are delighted that the Tribunal have ruled in Mary’s favor and delivered justice in this case,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, as quoted in the statement.

“From the beginning this case has been about the high-handed attack from the NHS bureaucracy on the right of a devoted and industrious nurse to wear a cross — the worldwide, recognized and cherished symbol of the Christian faith. It is very uplifting to see the Tribunal acknowledge this truth.”

A native of Nigeria, Onuoha immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1988 and began working at the hospital in 2001, wearing a cross necklace while working her shifts.

In 2015, Onuoha began to have superiors who requested that she remove the cross, and in 2018, her superiors claimed that the religious jewelry violated the facility’s dress code.

She was then forced to take on administrative roles rather than her intended occupation and was facing possible disciplinary action before she resigned in August 2020.

After her resignation, Onuoha filed legal action against the hospital, accusing her supervisors of religious discrimination, with the tribunal hearing oral arguments last October.

"This has always been an attack on my faith," said Onuoha in a statement released last year. "My cross is part of me and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm.”

“Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs [at the hospital]. Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job."

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