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Judgement date :13/10/2022
The facts of this case concern the refusal to consider the application for an internship within a private undertaking in Belgium due to the candidate's non-compliance with the company's neutrality rule that prohibited the manifestation of any religious, philosophical or political belief, in particular through clothing, in the workplace.
The Tribunal du travail francophone de Bruxelles (French-speaking Labour Court of Brussels, Belgium) referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) the question of whether employees of a private undertaking, including interns, can be prohibited from wearing certain clothing based on religious precepts in their place of work. The referral also calls for an examination of the discretion afforded to Member States, pursuant to Article 8 of Directive 2000/78, to adopt provisions which are more favourable to the protection of the principle of equal treatment than those laid down in that directive, in particular by treating religion and religious beliefs as an autonomous ground of discrimination.
Recalling WABE and MH Müller Handel (C-804/18 C-341/19), as well as Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, The CJEU held that Article 1 of Directive2000/78 must be interpreted as meaning that the words ‘religion or belief’ contained therein constitute a single ground of discrimination, covering both religious belief and philosophical or spiritual belief, distinct however from "political or any other opinion". [Paras. 24-26].
The CJEU also recalled WABE, as well as G4S Secure Solutions (C‑157/15), to hold that an internal rule of a private undertaking prohibiting the wearing of any visible sign of political, philosophical or religious belief in the workplace does not constitute direct discrimination ‘on the [ground] of religion or belief’ for the purposes of that provision provided that it covers any manifestation of such beliefs without distinction and treats all workers of the undertaking in the same way by requiring them, in a general and undifferentiated way, inter alia, to dress neutrally, which precludes the wearing of such signs. The CJEU also held that, while internal neutrality rules may constitute a difference in treatment that is indirectly based on religion or belief, according to Article 2(2)(b)(i) of Directive 2000/78, such a difference in treatment would nonetheless not constitute indirect discrimination, within the meaning of Article 2(2)(b) of that directive, if it were objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim were appropriate and necessary. The objective of neutrality may be a legitimate aim but must also be a 'genuine need' [Paras. 33-40].
Lastly the CJEU held that Article 1 of Directive2000/78 must be interpreted as precluding provisions of national legislation, which are intended to ensure the transposition of that directive into national law and which are construed as meaning that religious belief and philosophical belief constitute two separate grounds of discrimination, from being taken into account as ‘provisions which are more favourable to the protection of the principle of equal treatment than those laid down in [that directive]’ for the purposes of Article 8(1) thereof.