Key facts of the case:
Reference for a preliminary ruling — Social policy — Directive 2000/78/EC — Equal treatment — Discrimination based on religion or belief — Workplace regulations of an undertaking prohibiting workers from wearing visible political, philosophical or religious signs in the workplace — Direct discrimination — None — Indirect discrimination — Female worker prohibited from wearing an Islamic headscarf.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Grand Chamber) hereby rules:
Article 2(2)(a) of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation must be interpreted as meaning that the prohibition on wearing an Islamic headscarf, which arises from an internal rule of a private undertaking prohibiting the visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign in the workplace, does not constitute direct discrimination based on religion or belief within the meaning of that directive.
By contrast, such an internal rule of a private undertaking may constitute indirect discrimination within the meaning of Article 2(2)(b) of Directive 2000/78 if it is established that the apparently neutral obligation it imposes results, in fact, in persons adhering to a particular religion or belief being put at a particular disadvantage, unless it is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, such as the pursuit by the employer, in its relations with its customers, of a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary, which it is for the referring court to ascertain.
27) In the same recital, the EU legislature also referred to the constitutional traditions common to the Member States, as general principles of EU law. Among the rights resulting from those common traditions, which have been reaffirmed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’), is the right to freedom of conscience and religion enshrined in Article 10(1) of the Charter. In accordance with that provision, that right includes freedom to change religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or in private, to manifest religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. As is apparent from the explanations relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (OJ 2007 C 303, p. 17), the right guaranteed in Article 10(1) of the Charter corresponds to the right guaranteed in Article 9 of the ECHR and, in accordance with Article 52(3) of the Charter, has the same meaning and scope.
28) In so far as the ECHR and, subsequently, the Charter use the term ‘religion’ in a broad sense, in that they include in it the freedom of persons to manifest their religion, the EU legislature must be considered to have intended to take the same approach when adopting Directive 2000/78, and therefore the concept of ‘religion’ in Article 1 of that directive should be interpreted as covering both the forum internum, that is the fact of having a belief, and the forum externum, that is the manifestation of religious faith in public.
38) An employer’s wish to project an image of neutrality towards customers relates to the freedom to conduct a business that is recognised in Article 16 of the Charter and is, in principle, legitimate, notably where the employer involves in its pursuit of that aim only those workers who are required to come into contact with the employer’s customers.