A Hairdresser, a Hijab, and a ‘Hate Crime’
The owner of a trendy London hair salon has to shell out $8,000 for hurting a veiled Muslim job applicant's feelings. Boo hoo.
July 1, 2008 - 12:00 am
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a cliché, but it has served us well because it appeals to our sense of fair play. Those who take risks and make sacrifices for uncertain rewards deserve those rewards if they come.
Sarah Desrosiers, owner of London’s Wedge Hair Salon, took risks and made sacrifices. A senior stylist in an established west London salon, she gave up this relative security, took out a loan, and invested her £5,000 ($10,000) savings in the lease on a small salon in north London. There was no guarantee that Desrosiers’ salon, which specializes in “urban and edgy” and “funky” cuts, would succeed, however hard she worked. And she worked hard. From the Daily Mail:
I was prepared to put my heart and soul into my business in order to make ends meet, and for the first few months, I worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, all by myself.
Risk and sacrifice are not enough: a good businesswoman has judgment. So when Desrosiers advertised for a junior assistant, it was reasonable for her to exercise her judgment as to who would fit the image of her “funky” salon:
“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. “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.”
Muslim applicant Bushra Noah, pictured below, does not fit the image. She is pointedly, reproachfully un-funky, a silent admonition to those infidel women who dare to flaunt their hair and a deterrent to precisely the kind of customer Desrosiers wishes to attract:
Rightly turned down for the stylist job on the grounds that she refused to remove her headscarf and display her hair, Noah sued Desrosiers for religious discrimination and “hurt feelings,” seeking damages of £34,000 ($68,000). When I wrote about this case in May, I assumed common sense would prevail and it would be thrown out. Not so. While the direct discrimination case failed, those “hurt feelings” netted Noah £4,000 ($8,000) of Desrosiers’ money. Not bad going for a ten-minute interview. Nice work if you can’t get it. I should be so hurt.