Logo law and pluralism
Logo Università Bicocca

Relevant case law

A collection, sorted by years, of the most important judicial decisions concerning pluralism.

IX v. WABE eV e MH Müller Handels GmbH v. MJ, Cases C-804/18, C-341/19, CJUE (Grand Chamber), 15 July 2021

IX v. WABE eV e MH Müller Handels GmbH v. MJ, Cases C-804/18, C-341/19, CJUE (Grand Chamber), 15 July 2021

The Grand Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union has pronounced on the issue of the compatibility with EU law of the prohibition imposed by a private company on its employees to wear in the workplace conspicuous signs of political, ideological or religious beliefs.

The occasion is provided by two joined cases. The first concerns a nursery school teacher (IX v. WABE) who, refusing to remove her Islamic veil, was suspended by the director of the structure, on the basis of the company's neutrality clause that requires those in contact with children and parents not to display religious symbols. The second (MH Müller Handels GmbH/MJ) concerned a cashier who, having refused to comply with her employer's request to remove her Islamic veil, was given an injunction against wearing large religious symbols in the workplace. Also in the latter case, the company had included a clause of corporate neutrality that prohibited the use, at work, of conspicuous symbols of a religious, political or philosophical nature.

The Court reiterates its orientation, already expressed in its judgment of 14 March 2017, G4S Secure Solutions, C-157/15, according to which the desire of an employer to give customers an image of neutrality legitimately falls within the freedom to conduct a business, recognized by Article 16 of the Charter, in particular if the employer involves in the pursuit of this objective only those employees who are supposed to come into contact with the customers.

Thus, it is held that a difference in treatment indirectly based on religion or belief, resulting from an internal rule of a private company that prohibits workers from wearing at the workplace any visible sign of political, philosophical or religious belief, may be justified by the employer's desire to pursue a policy of political, philosophical and religious neutrality towards the customers. That is on condition, first, that such a policy meets a genuine need on the part of that employer, which it is for the latter to prove, taking into account, in particular, the legitimate expectations of the customers and the adverse consequences which the employer would suffer in the absence of such a policy, having regard to the nature of its activities or the context in which they operate. Furthermore, the admissibility of the difference in treatment must also be verified through the demonstration of the correct application of the policy of neutrality, which presupposes that such a policy is pursued consistently and systematically. Finally, the prohibition must be limited to what is strictly necessary, having regard to the actual scope and gravity of the adverse consequences which the employer wishes to avoid by means of such a prohibition.


(Comment by Nadia Spadaro)