She had been subjected to disciplinary action seven times, which mainly involved suspending her and docking her pay for a day at a time.
The woman, who has not been named, worked for the franchise Acciona, dealing with passenger queries, on a permanent ad hoc job contract from 2007 meaning she was considered a fixed employee but had periodic lay-off periods during low season.
In December 2015, she told her superior that she wished to wear a hijab – a headscarf which leaves the face uncovered but conceals the throat and hair – during her working day, and this was agreed provisionally whilst a consultation was held at the head office in Madrid on the matter.
But between April and July 2016, she was repeatedly sanctioned by the firm.
After wearing her hijab for just one day, she was informed in writing that staff were not permitted to wear ‘any item of clothing’ not included in the personnel uniform catalogue, which was aimed at ‘maintaining a neutral and identical image of the company in the presence of customers’.
But she wore it again the next day, during which she was called to the manager’s office and sent home for ‘refusing to comply with company policy’.
The following day, the woman turned up again wearing her headscarf, and was suspended for a day with her pay cut for those hours.
In May, seeing that the situation had reached a deadlock, the employee requested in writing that the company ‘reconsider its position’ concerning her hijab and announced she would take legal action if it did not do so for breaching her fundamental rights – that of religious expression – whilst stressing that the conflict was causing her serious stress and affecting her health.
Finally, she was forced to go to an industrial tribunal.
Here, the lady judge upheld her case, saying the firm had not stated that a hijab had caused any harm to the corporate image, and that it did not have a general rule banning any type of religious symbols, such as forbidding staff from wearing a cross – and, in fact, did not expressly prohibit the wearing of a hijab on the job.
Additionally, the woman’s work identity card photograph showed her in a headscarf and had been authorised for use, proving the firm had not demanded its removal for security reasons.
The judge ordered Acciona to pay her €4,491 in wages she did not receive because of the suspension, plus €7,892 for emotional damage.
Acciona has not confirmed whether it intends to appeal against the verdict.