The court said that Berlin’s Neutrality Law (Neutralitätsgesetz), which forbids civil servants from wearing religious symbols, is a form of discrimination.
The case originated when the Muslim plaintiff, a graduate computer scientist, applied to be a teacher at a school in the German capital.
But shortly after her interview she was informed that, according to Berlin regulations, she was not allowed to wear the head covering in school lessons due to the city's Neutrality Law.
Under the law, exceptions could only be made for religious instruction and vocational schools.
After the woman replied that she did not want to take off her headscarf, she was turned down for the position.
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She then claimed compensation in court, arguing that the blanket headscarf ban discriminated against her religion.
The Berlin-Brandenburg regional court backed the woman, and awarded her compensation amounting to one and a half months' salary, or a total €5,159.
Fighting an appeal
When the city-state of Berlin appealed the decision, the woman brought the case to constitutional court, who also sided with the regional court’s decision.
The judges based their decision on a headscarf ban made in January 2015 by the Federal Constitutional Court.
Head scarfs can only be forbidden, it stated, “if a sufficiently concrete danger to school peace or state neutrality can be established”. Yet the woman did not pose any danger through her wearing of the headscarf, they stated.
Berlin's Senator of Justice, Dirk Behrendt, of the Greens, wrote on Twitter that the Neutrality Law should be changed in the next legislative period.
Berlin could no longer afford to discriminate against suitable teachers, he said, adding: “In the multi-religious society it must be about what someone has within his or her head and not on the head.”
In der multireligiösen Gesellschaft muss es darum gehen, was jemand im Kopf und nicht auf dem Kopf hat. Die Entscheidung des Bundesarbeitsgerichts war so zu erwarten, denn die Rechtsprechung des Bundesverfassungsgerichts zum Kopftuchverbot ist eindeutig. #Neutralitätsgesetz https://t.co/wpHTeIRqX0
— Dirk Behrendt (@Dirk_Behrendt) August 27, 2020