Melbourne Black Star Pastry employees sacked after wearing the keffiyeh at work

<span>An unknown person wearing a keffiyeh. Two Black Star Pastry bakery employees have launched a discrimination case over their dismissal, after they both wore the traditional scarf in support of Palestine at work.</span><span>Photograph: Stacey Newman/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
An unknown person wearing a keffiyeh. Two Black Star Pastry bakery employees have launched a discrimination case over their dismissal, after they both wore the traditional scarf in support of Palestine at work.Photograph: Stacey Newman/Rex/Shutterstock

Two employees who were sacked after wearing keffiyehs to work at a bakery in Melbourne’s Chadstone shopping centre have launched a workplace discrimination case.

Black Star Pastry, known for its watermelon cake, is facing a discrimination case that alleges the company breached Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act. They claim the dismissal breached the legislation for loss of employment because it discriminated against two staff members on the basis of their political belief or activity.

The case, first reported by The Age, was lodged with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal in March.

Lucy and Ella, both aged 22 and who requested their surnames not be published, wore keffiyehs – a traditional scarf linked to the struggle for a Palestinian state for decades – during a shift at the store on 30 January.

The same day the company’s HR department ordered them to remove the keffiyehs – an order they complied with. The following day, they were informed their employment would be terminated immediately.

The termination letter, seen by Guardian Australia, said wearing a keffiyeh while working was “divisive and inflammatory” to the store’s customers and staff and against its “vision to create a place of inclusivity”. It said the conduct could bring “Black Star Pastry into disrepute.”

“Your actions have caused serious and imminent risk to the reputation and viability of our business,” the letter said.

The letter said the pair had breached its code of conduct, uniform and presentation standards, and social media and communications policies.

The day Ella and Lucy wore the keffiyehs to work, a photo of the pair was shared on social media platform tagging Black Star Bakery and Chadstone shopping centre.

Ella was employed full-time, meaning the company had to pay leave entitlements, but Lucy was a casual worker.

Lucy told Guardian Australia she wanted to show support for Palestine when she chose to wear the keffiyeh.

“I wanted to show people who might be coming through Chadstone or into Black Star that they are people who support Palestine,” she said.

“Some customers were really happy and grateful to see it.”

Kelly Thomas, principal solicitor at the Young Workers Centre who is representing the pair, said Lucy and Ella had engaged in a “quiet, peaceful form of political activity”.

“It was not offensive, it was not verbal, it was not rude, it was not attacking anybody. It was simply wearing a scarf to show support to the people of Palestine,” she told Guardian Australia.

“The Equal Opportunity Act says that once you express that political belief or activity, then you’re protected from discrimination, and the discrimination that occurred was termination of their employment.”

Related: Victorian parliament deems keffiyeh ‘political’ as it bans MPs from wearing it

Thomas argued Lucy and Ella had not breached Black Star’s uniform policy and said their termination was “very cut and dry”.

“The political expression and then the discrimination occurs in such proximity, and they rely on the wearing of the keffiyehs, which is the political expression, in the termination letter,” she said.

In a statement, Danielle Laskovsky, general manager at Black Star Pastry, said it was committed to providing a “safe, positive, and productive working environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect”.

“It respects the right of its employees to express their political views, outside of work, when not representing Black Star Pastry,” she said.

“This matter is currently before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal; therefore, it would be inappropriate for us to provide any further comments on the matter”.

Thomas said that if the pair’s claim was successful, Vcat could make a ruling to award them reinstatement of employment, compensation, an apology or specify training or an examining of policies to be undertaken.

She said the Young Workers Centre had observed a “worrying trend” of young workers being “alive to the idea that they might suffer if they express a point of view”.

The matter is scheduled for a meditation later this month.

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