Zelda de Groen, 24, who lost her job in 2016 at a Jewish nursery school in London after school authorities found she was ‘living in sin’ with her boyfriend, has won her case of religious and sexual discrimination.
An Employment Tribunal in Watford found the way she was treated by the ultra-Orthodox Gan Menachem Nursery in Hendon was “undoubtedly humiliating, degrading and offensive.”
The tribunal will hold an additional hearing at an undetermined date to discuss compensation. In her lawsuit, de Groen had asked for more than £19,000.
De Groen grew up in a haredi Orthodox home in Stamford Hill in London, but left “after many years of significant discontent”. She moved in with her boyfriend Oz Waknin in April 2016. The couple married in July of this year.
In May 2016, they were guests at a barbecue along with some school trustees and parents of pupils. During the event, it became known that the unmarried couple was living together. Some parents spoke to the school about their objections to de Groen’s living situation afterward.
De Groen told the tribunal that school managers subjected her to a “humiliating” hourlong interview in which they said it was time for her to get married. She also described their tone as “threatening”.
I was told that having kids outside of marriage is wrong and will not be tolerated. Their comments, and the personal nature of the meeting, were humiliating.
Two days after the meeting, de Groen asked her managers for an apology but instead was given a letter notifying her of disciplinary proceedings. She was fired a month later.
According to this report, Employment Judge Andrew Clarke said that there was “no dispute” that many Orthodox Jews regarded cohabitation before marriage as contrary to the faith.
But the nursery, which follows Lubavitch teachings, had not shown there was any occupational requirement by teachers to observe such standards, it found. Moreover, Gan Menachem’s case was that:
It was not concerned with her private life, all that it wanted was the appearance of compliance.
The tribunal noted she was regarded as “a very good teacher” by Gan Menachem, and that a man would not have been treated in the same way.