A teacher who was sacked from an Orthodox Jewish nursery for ‘living in sin’ with her boyfriend has won her case of religious and sexual discrimination.
Zelda de Groen, 24, was subjected to a ‘humiliating’ interview last year by bosses who delved into her private life, and told her that at 23 she should be married.
She was pulled out of classes for the ‘chat’ after parents at Gan Menachem nursery in Hendon, London, complained about her living with her boyfriend Oz Waknin. One parent even suggested they would pull their child out of the nursery the following year if they were to be taught by her.
During the hour-long dressing down, headteacher Miriam Lieberman and nursery manager Dina Toron suggested that a solution could be to lie and just deny she was living with him.
Two days later, when Ms de Groen asked for an apology for the way she had been treated, she was disciplined and fired.
Ms de Groen, now 24 and married to Mr Waknin, successfully sued the nursery for direct and indirect religious discrimination, direct sex discrimination, and harassment.
In its ruling, the Watford Employment Tribunal panel said: ‘The effect was undoubtedly humiliating, degrading and offensive. The claimant was distraught during and after the meeting, and reasonably so. She was being probed about her private life in ways which suggested that she was behaving badly and foolishly.’
Ms de Groen was brought up in an Orthodox household until she was 16, when she moved to Israel. She returned three years later having rejected Orthodoxy, but continuing to adhere to her Jewish beliefs.
The young teacher worked at the nursery for four years, rising to the position of team leader. During her employment, Ms de Groen knew she had to comply with the ‘nursery’s ultra-orthodox teaching and rules while at work’, the hearing was told.
Employment Judge Andrew Clarke QC said: ‘We consider that Mrs Toron and Mrs Lieberman did deliberately indicate at the meeting that [lying] might provide an acceptable solution to the problem,’ he said.
‘However, the claimant failed to understand that this is what the respondent wanted, because lying is contrary to Orthodox Jewish beliefs – and her own beliefs – and she simply did not expect either of those two ladies to be asking her to lie.
‘The fact remains that they were. It is repugnant to generally accepted standards of morality to require someone to lie, especially about matters so concerned with their protected human rights.’
It concluded that a male teacher would not have been treated in such a way, and that the root of the problem was the differing interpretation of their religion.
A remedy hearing will take place at a later date.