U.K. Teacher Suspended for Wearing Veil Wins Victimization Suit

A Muslim teaching assistant suspended after she refused to remove a veil during lessons won a victimization suit Thursday against her school.

But Aishah Azmi, 24, who had insisted on wearing a niqab -- a veil that leaves only her eyes visible -- during lessons, lost two key claims of discrimination and harassment against the employer.

Her case had become the center of a wide-ranging debate over the decision of some Muslim women to wear full veils and the participation of religious groups in British society. Reacting to the case on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair called the religious dress a "mark of separation."

Blair said he backed the local education authority's decision to suspend Azmi from her job teaching 11-year-old children at Headfield Church of England Junior School, in Dewsbury, northern England.

Azmi acknowledged that she had not worn her veil during an interview for the job, assisting children who speak English as a second language.

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An employment tribunal awarded her $1,870 for injury to her feelings following her victimization at the school. However the tribunal panel rejected allegations she had been subjected to direct and indirect discrimination and harassment.

Azmi, wearing a black veil, said at a news conference in Leeds, northern England, that she would appeal against the decision to reject her claims of discrimination and harassment.

"Muslim women who wear the veil are not aliens, and politicians need to recognize that what they say can have a very dangerous impact on the lives of the minorities they treat as outcasts," Azmi said. "Integration requires people like me to be in the workplace so that people can see that we are not to be feared or mistrusted."