The owner of an “alternative” London hair salon is being sued for religious discrimination after refusing to give a job to a Muslim woman who wanted to wear a headscarf at work.
Sarah Desrosiers, whose Wedge salon specialises in “urban funky” cuts, says she turned down applicant Bushra Noah because she was “selling image” and needed her staff to display their hairstyles to the public.
Ms Noah, 19, is claiming religious discrimination and suing Ms Desrosiers for more than £15,000 for injury to her feelings, as well as an unspecified sum for lost earnings.
Ms Desrosiers, 32, who set up her business in King’s Cross 18 months ago, has already spent more than £1,000 fighting the case and says that if she loses she will be forced to close.
She denies any discrimination and says she rejected Ms Noah because she was unwilling to show her hair at work.
“I sell image—it’s very important—and I would expect a hair stylist to display her hair because I need people to be drawn in off the street,” said Ms Desrosiers. “It’s the nature and style of my salon that brings people in and someone having their hair covered conflicts with that. If someone came in wearing a baseball hat or a cowboy hat I’d tell them to take it off while they’re working. To me, it’s absolutely basic that people should be able to see the stylist’s hair.”
In a legal letter setting out her employment tribunal case, Ms Noah, from Acton, claims she was discriminated against and treated rudely at her interview in March and wrongly turned down for a job she was capable of doing because of her headscarf.
Ms Noah said today she had attended a total of 25 interviews for hairdressing jobs without success and had decided to take legal action because she had been upset by Ms Desrosiers’ comments. She said: “I decided to sue this hairdresser because she upset me the most. I felt so down and got so depressed, I thought if I am not going to defend myself, who is?
“When I spoke to her on the phone she offered me a trial day. But when I turned up she looked at me in shock. She asked if I wore the headscarf all the time. She kept repeating, ‘I wish you told me over the phone’.
“Ever since I was in high school hairdressing is what I wanted to do. It is sad for them to not give me the opportunity. This has ruined my ambitions. Wearing a headscarf is essential to my beliefs.”
Ms Desrosiers said she was struggling to find money to contest the hearing, scheduled for January. She said: “I’m being dragged through the mud and pretty much accused of being a racist. I feel it is totally unfair and wrong.”