Joined CJEU Cases C-804/18 & C-341/19 | WABE and MH Müller Handel

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Information Guide concerning Cases C-804/18 and C-341/19 from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which concern the equal treatment in employment and occupation, freedom of religion in connection with the wearing of a headscarf in the workplace.

Further information:

Two individuals employed in companies governed by German law - WABE eV and MH Müller Handels GmbH - wore an Islamic headscarf (or hijab) at their respective workplaces. In both cases, the individuals were subject to instructions and warnings against displaying any major signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs. Both were told not wear their headscarves.

One of the individuals brought an action before Hamburg Labour Corurt (Arbeitsgericht Hamburg) seeking an order that the company remove from her personal file the warnings concerning the wearing of the Islamic headscarf. The other individual brought an action before the national courts seeking the invalidity of such instruction and compensation for the damage suffered. The latter's action was upheld and the company brought an appeal on a point of law before Germany's Federal Labour Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht).

The two German courts decided to refer questions to the CJEU concerning the interpretation of Directive 2000/78. In particular, the questions focus on whether prohibiting certain clothes based on religious precepts constitutes discrimination, the circumstances in which a difference of treatment may be justified and what elements must be taken into consideration in examining the appropriateness of such a difference of treatment.

The Court decided on 15 July 2021 that a prohibition on wearing any visible form of expression of political, philosophical or religious beliefs in the workplace may be justified by the employer's need to present a neutral image towards customers or to prevent social disputes. However, it added that justification must correspond to a genuine need from the employer, and national courts may take into account the specific context of their Member State when reconciling rights and interests at issue.

Related Links
Commentary and Analysis
Verfassungsblog, 01/03/2021: Preserving Prejudice in the Name of Profit: AG Rantos’ Opinion in IX v Wabe and MH Müller Handels GmbH
EU Law Analysis, 23/03/2021: Shadow Opinion of former Advocate-General Sharpston: headscarves at work (Cases C-804/18 and C-341/19)
Open Access Government, 15/07/2021: EU court says workplaces can ban headscarves
Jurist, 17/07/2021: European Court of Justice rules headscarves can be banned at work

TRT World, 31/01/2019: German court refers headscarf case to European Court of Justice
Politico, 15/07/2021: Companies can ban headscarves at work, top EU court rules
Euronews, 15/07/2021: Employers can ban workers from wearing headscarves or religious symbols, ECJ rules
France24, 15/07/2021: Headscarves can be banned at work under certain conditions, top EU court rules
Deutsche Welle, 15/07/2021: EU court allows conditional headscarves bans at work
EUObserver, 16/07/2021: EU court gives green light to headscarf bans, 16/07/2021: Companies can ban headscarf at work, under certain conditions, says EU court
Reuters, 18/07/2021: Turkey condemns EU court ruling on headscarf ban as violation of freedoms
Deutsche Welle, 18/07/2021: Turkey slams top EU court on headscarf ban
The Guardian, 18/07/2021: Turkey says EU headscarf ruling ‘grants legitimacy to racism’
Anadolu Agency, 19/07/2021: ‘EU court ruling on headscarf ban against freedom of religion, belief’

CJEU CURIA: Case C-804/18 | WABE
CJEU CURIA: Case C-341/19 | MH Müller Handel
CJEU: Press Release No 25/2021, 25/02/2021: Advocate General’s Opinion in Joined Cases C-804/18 IX v WABE e.V and C-341/19 MH Müller Handels GmbH v MJ
CJEU: Press Release No 128/21, 15/07/2021: Judgment in Joined Cases C-804/18 and C-341/19 WABE and MH Müller Handel

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