Theatre nurse Mary Onuoha was victimised by NHS bosses who created a ‘humiliating, hostile and threatening environment’ for her to work in after they took issue with her Christian cross necklace, an employment tribunal found
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A nurse discriminated against for wearing a Christian cross necklace at work has won an employment tribunal battle against the NHS.
Mary Onuoha was told by the Tribunal she had been victimised by chiefs at Croydon University Hospital NHS Trust for refusing to remove her small gold cross.
The Tribunal ruled there was “no cogent explanation” why other items of jewellery and clothing were allowed, “but a fine necklace with a small pendant of religious devotional significance is not”.
It ruled the hospital breached the Nigerian-born nurse’s human rights and created a “humiliating, hostile and threatening environment” for her to work in.
Mrs Onuoha – who worked at the hospital for 19 years – was then forced out of her job as a theatre practitioner in June 2020 following what she described as a two-year campaign against her.
The trust had argued that wearing the cross necklace was an infection risk.
But the employment justice presiding, Judge Dyal, refuted the claim, saying the religious charm posed a “very low” risk of passing on infections.
The ruling written by the judge and two lay members, read: “Applying commonsense, it is clear to us that the infection risk posed by a necklace of the sort the claimant used to wear, when worn by a responsible clinician such as the claimant who complied with hand-washing protocol, was very low.”
The tribunal also stated the rejection of her grievance by NHS bosses was offensive and intimidating and it failed to properly grapple with the complexity of the issues.
It read: “No real thought seems to have been given to whether it was really appropriate to discipline the claimant for doing something that in fact many others in the workforce (including more senior colleagues who worked just as closely with patients) were doing unchallenged.
“Equally, no real thought was given to the claimant’s point that others were wearing religious apparel in clinical areas and that she should be treated equally to them.”
The tribunal also found that Croydon Health Services NHS Trust constructively dismissed Mrs Onuoha without reasonable and proper cause and that the dismissal was unfair and discriminatory.
During the case it was heard that she reported being harassed for wearing the cross necklace by a senior manager, while caring for a patient under general anaesthetic in the operating theatre.
The Tribunal concluded that interrupting the surgery while a patient was on the table was ‘high-handed’, adding: “[The senior manager] literally interrupted surgery in order to address the issue.
“This was to treat the matter as if it was an emergency, but on any view it was not.”