Tribunal rules in favour of Nigerian nurse in England bullied out of her job for wearing a cross

Mary Onuoha

An employment tribunal has ruled that former NHS nurse and Nigerian Catholic, Mary Onuoha, was bullied out of her job and unfairly dismissed by Croydon University hospital for wearing a cross.

Mary Onuoha claimed that she had faced a 'campaign of harassment' by bosses at the hospital to make her remove the small gold cross.

According to Daily Mail, a tribunal found that although the hospital claimed there were health and safety policies behind their demand, this was inconsistent with the treatment of other staff who wore similar items of clothing and jewellery.

The panel found in her favour and ruled that she was forced to quit her role in 2020 after her employers created 'an offensive, hostile and intimidating environment'.

Mrs Onuoha had been an employee of the hospital for over 18 years and had worn the gold cross for 40 years to mark her Catholic faith.

However from 2015, she claims a number of managers told her to remove the cross from around her neck of the matter would face escalation.

She claimed patient safety was risked in an operating theatre to discipline her and her head of department even said he would have to call security if she wore it in a clinical area.

The tribunal ruled: 'It is clear to us that the infection risk posed by a necklace of the sorts the Claimant used to wear, when worn by a responsible clinician such as the Claimant, who complied with handwashing protocol, was very low.'

The Tribunal have also found that Croydon Health Services NHS Trust constructively dismissed Mrs Onuoha and that the dismissal was unfair and discriminatory.

Finding that Mrs Onuoha was constructively dismissed, the tribunal concluded: 'In our view the conduct which we have identified as amounting to harassment and/or direct discrimination individually or cumulatively was sufficiently serious so as to be likely to destroy or seriously undermine the relationship of trust and confidence.

'We do not accept that the Respondent had reasonable and proper cause for its conduct.

'There was a broad health and safety objective underlying much of the conduct. However, given the inconsistency of treatment between employees wearing other items of religious and non-religious apparel that had no work-based function but had a comparable risk profile, that simply did not justify the treatment of the Claimant.

A remedy hearing will take place at a later date.

A spokesperson for Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: 'We would like to apologise to Mrs Onuoha and thank the Employment Tribunal panel for their careful consideration of this matter.

'It is important that NHS staff feel able to express their beliefs, and that our policies are applied in a consistent, compassionate and inclusive way.

'Since this matter in 2019, our dress code and uniform policy has been updated with the support of the Trust's staff networks and trade union representatives to ensure it is inclusive and sensitive to all religious and cultural needs, while maintaining effective infection prevention and control measures and protecting the safety of our patients and staff.

'However, we will carry out a further review of our policy and practices in light of this judgment.'

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, who supported the claim, said: 'We are delighted that the Tribunal have ruled in Mary's favour and delivered justice in this case.

'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, recognised and cherished symbol of the Christian faith. It is very uplifting to see the Tribunal acknowledge this truth.

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