After a three year dispute, the court of appeal in Versailles told a children's nursery on Thursday they had the right to fire a woman who refused to remove her veil for work.

"/> After a three year dispute, the court of appeal in Versailles told a children's nursery on Thursday they had the right to fire a woman who refused to remove her veil for work.

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OK to fire headscarf-wearing employee: court

After a three year dispute, the court of appeal in Versailles told a children's nursery on Thursday they had the right to fire a woman who refused to remove her veil for work.

The case began in 2008 when the employee returned from maternity leave to the Baby Loup nursery in the Paris suburb of Chanteloup-les-Vignes. She had started wearing a full body veil with just her face showing, which she refused to remove.

The crèche, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, said it enforced a strict policy of non-religious symbols. When the employee insisted on continuing to wear her veil, she was dismissed.

The case was taken up in 2010 by the state-run authority that fights discrimination, HALDE (Haute Autorité de Lutte contre les Discriminations et pour l’Egalité). The body originally supported the sacked woman when it first heard the case in March 2010.

However, there was a change of heart later that year when a new leader, Jeannette Bougrab, was installed. Bougrab, who now works as the minister for youth, said the crèche had the right to choose a “philosophical option of secularism.”

The employee took her case to an employment tribunal in December 2010 asking for €80,000 ($113,000) in damages. The tribunal also found in favour of the crèche, citing the “respect for the principle of secularism and also the vulnerability of children.”

Thursday’s decision followed an appeal by the worker to the Versailles court of appeal. The court ruled that the nursery had acted within a law allowing privately-owned kindergartens to forbid the wearing of religious symbols.

The director of the crèche, Natalia Baleato, said she was “relieved after three years of court cases.”

“It’s a huge victory for secularism but, above all, a victory for Baby Loup” said the nursery’s lawyer, Richard Malka.

Bougrab said she was “very happy” about the decision.

“Many of us have supported Natalia Baleato who launched this scheme in a “difficult” area, allowing children to be looked after so their mothers can become autonomous” she said. 

As well as the law allowing the banning of religious symbols in nurseries, France has also banned the full-face covering Islamic niqab veil and slapped fines on several women for wearing the garment.

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Le Pen accused of ‘improper behaviour’ for refusing headscarf to meet Muslim leader

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen sparked controversy on Tuesday when she refused to wear a headscarf to meet with Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric. Or was it all just a publicity stunt on both sides?

Le Pen accused of 'improper behaviour' for refusing headscarf to meet Muslim leader
Le Pen explains she won't be wearing the headscarf. Photo: AFP

When she arrived at Sheikh Abdellatif Deryan's office in Beirut, the National Front candidate was offered a shawl to cover her hair.

But she promptly refused, which prompted the Sunni authority to accuse her of “improper behaviour”.

Le Pen made a brief statement to journalists before leaving.

“I said yesterday that I would not veil myself. When they did not cancel the appointment I thought they would accept that I would not be wearing the veil.
“They tried to impose that on me, as though it was a fait accompli. Well, no one presents me with a fait accompli,” the candidate said.
There have been suggestions in the French media that the clash, seen in the video below, may have all been premeditated as a publicity stunt aimed at boosting Le Pen's appeal during the French presidential election campaign.

Deryan heads the Dar al-Fatwa organisation, the highest Sunni authority in Lebanon.

In a statement on Tuesday, the body said “its press office had informed the presidential candidate, through one of her assistants, of the need to cover her head when she meets his eminence, according to the protocol assumed by Dar al-Fatwa”.

The body said it was surprised by Le Pen's refusal to conform to a known rule and regretted what it called “improper behaviour”.

However Florian Philipot, the National Front deputy leader, hailed Le Pen's stance as “a beautiful message of emancipation and freedom sent to the women of France and the world”.

Islamic dress is a hot-button issue in France, where the full-face veil is banned in public places.

The Islamic headscarf known as the Hijab is also banned in schools and public buildings, but Le Pen has said she wants to extend the ban to all public places.

Her stance however may open her up to accusations of hypocrisy as she regularly tells her supporters at rallies that foreign migrants in France should either adapt to French rules and culture or go home.

Should she have adapted to the cultural norms of where she was?

“On est chez nous, rentrez chez vous”, which roughly translates as “This is our home, so go home” is frequently chanted by her supporters at rallies, a chant that has Le Pen's support.

Tuesday is Le Pen's last day in Lebanon, where she met a foreign head of state for the first time — President Michel Aoun.

The FN leader, whose party takes an anti-immigrant stance, also met Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

Shunned by European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and its anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with Aoun aimed to boost her international credibility.