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2000-08-10 - Eastern High Court of Denmark, Magasin case, n. U.2000.2350.Ø

Workplace · Denmark · Discrimination · Dress code · Headscarf

The rejection of an intern because of her wearing a religious headscarf amounts to an indirect discrimination

Key facts of the case - An intern was turned away from the Danish department store Magasin for turning up to work wearing a headscarf. Odense school administration had made arrangements for the internship. The department store did not require uniform attire from its employees, but expected the attire to reflect the department the employee was working in and the department store had a dress code with guidelines and illustrations of appropriate attires. The dress code did not mention any form of headdress, but it was interpreted to prohibit headscarves.

Main reasoning of the Court - The Court found that the rejection of the intern solely due to a headscarf worn for religious reasons was a form of indirect discrimination of the applicant, since enforcement of the dress code to prohibit headscarves would mainly impact a distinct group with the same religious background as the applicant. The Court found that this contravened the discrimination Act and the applicant was awarded compensation.

Comment - In the Magasin case –where the Muslim employee prevailed- the store had no pre-existing official dress policy, this is a difference with the later Føtex case which was triggered by it and where the employer with the restrictive dress policy prevailed.
The two leading cases (Magasin in 2000 and Føtex in 2005) resulted in a general understanding of the law, that gives employers in the private market a right – within general standards of decency of course - to institute a formal dress code on their employees and that employees are not entitled to exemptions on account of their religion. That is: if an employer does not want a religious veil as part of the dress code, then the employee cannot wear a veil – she has to find another job. In practice however, these cases also set a standard which has not been followed in the aftermath.
The same stores, that won the cases, have now many employees, also in front line, wearing a veil combined with the dress code of the store. It is as if the norm now is: find a pragmatic solution instead of using courts for that.