A Nigerian nurse was demoted to be a receptionist for wearing a crucifix around her neck.
A nurse is suing her bosses after claiming she was driven out of her job for wearing a cross at work.
Devout Christian Mary Onuoha claims she was forced out of her job of 18 years at Croydon University Hospital because the crucifix was a health and safety risk.
She said her head of department told her he would call security if she wore it in a clinical area, but other staff were allowed to wear religious clothing or jewellery.
Initially she was told to remove the cross in 2018 because it was a breach of the trust’s dress code and uniform policy and asked her to wear a longer chain to keep it out of sight.
She refused and was investigated before being suspended, then was demoted to receptionist and in June 2020 she felt she had no option but to quit.
Ms Onuoha, who was inspired to become a nurse after her brother died from measles in Nigeria, has taken the trust to tribunal for harassment, victimisation, discrimination, and constructive and unfair dismissal.
She is represented by the Christian Legal Centre who say her human rights have been breached.
The hospital’s policy states that religious requirements ‘will be treated sensitively and will be agreed on an individual basis’, provided if confirms with health regulations and infection prevention.
It adds: ‘The wearing of saris, turbans, kirpan, skullcaps, hijabs, kippahs and clerical collars arising from particular cultural / religious norms are seen as part of welcoming diversity.’
On August 21, 2018, while in charge of a team supporting surgeons working on a patient in surgery, a manager entered theatre and demanded that she remove the cross.
After refusing she was told to leave the theatre and hide the jewellery under some back-to-front scrubs.
She said she could not leave the patient, but the manager said junior staff could remain while she put on the extra clothing.
The nurse again refused to leave and claims management returned with another senior member of staff, insisting she left to change.
In the end, Mrs Onuoha was told to carry on, but that the cross needed to be removed.
During the same operation, she says a blue pendant and earrings being worn by the anaesthetist were ignored.
In November 2018, Mrs Onuoha received a letter from the Associate Director of Nursing, Stephen Lord, telling her that she was now being demoted to reception duties and that an internal investigation would ensue.
In April 2019 she was given a final written warning but left work with stress in June 2020 after being moved to a series of administrative roles and resigned in August 2020.
Mrs Onuoha said: ‘This has always been an attack on my faith. My cross has been with me for 40 years. It is part of me, and my faith, and it has never caused anyone any harm.
‘Patients often say to me: “I really like your cross”, they always respond to it in a positive way and that gives me joy and makes me feel happy.
‘I am proud to wear it as I know God loves me so much and went through this pain for me.
‘At this hospital there are members of staff who go to a mosque four times a day and no one says anything to them. Hindus wear red bracelets on their wrists and female Muslims wear hijabs in theatre.
‘Yet my small cross around my neck was deemed so dangerous that I was no longer allowed to do my job.
‘I am a strong woman, but I have been treated like a criminal. I love my job, but I am not prepared to compromise my faith for it, and neither should other Christian NHS staff in this country.’
A spokesperson for the Croydon Health Services NHS Trust said: ‘We cannot comment on ongoing legal proceedings.’