I was reminded of this today, when I read an article about a Muslim teenager who was turned down for a hairdressing job because of her headscarf, so she's sueing the employer on the basis of religious discrimination. A few sources:
Headscarf hairdresser brings case (BBC News)
Hairdresser sued over Muslim headscarf ban (Telegraph)
Hairdresser sued for refusing to hire Muslim woman in a headscarf (Evening Standard/London Lite)
Hairdresser sued for refusing to hire Muslim woman in a headscarf (Daily Mail)
The standard disclaimers apply: I don't know any of the people involved, and the media could be distorting the facts. However, all these reports seem consistent (in fact the Evening Standard and Daily Mail articles appear to be identical!), so I'll consider this as a plausible hypothetical situation. The company in question is Wedge Hair.
In this case, the owner of the salon (Sarah Desrosiers) says that she wants all employees to show their hair to customers, presumably as an advert for their services. I don't think that this would indicate a particular stylist's skill, since I wouldn't expect them to do their own hair; it would be easier to get a colleague to do it for them. It might still provide a useful illustration of the general skills within the salon, but that's then more a case of modelling work.
In fairness, I'm not really the target audience for a salon like this. I haven't paid for a haircut in 11 years; I bought some clippers from Argos for £15 in 1996, and I've been trimming my own hair ever since. Mind you, it helps that I have a pretty simple haircut (grade 5 on top, grade 4 back and sides), so I can do it by touch; I take a "lawnmower" approach and move the clippers across the same area several times until no more hair comes off. Even when I did pay other people to do it, I'd normally expect to pay £5 a time, and it amazes me that women will pay £50.
Anyway, I'd be quite happy for a bald guy to cut my hair, although I might be a bit put off if someone had really dirty/tangled hair. In this case, I think that someone who wears a headscarf can still be good at her job, and the scarf itself looks neat and tidy, so I'd say that it's just neutral rather than bad. If the stylists have to do double duty as models then that may mean that some talented people don't get hired, but ultimately that's a business decision for the owner to make. In a similar way, if someone had several nose/ear/lip piercings and a big spider web tattoo on their face then this would probably count against them in interviews for City jobs, even if they were a highly skilled accountant; I think that's a reasonable attitude for the companies to take.
So, my basic view here is that the salon were within their rights to turn down Miss Noah, and it's not religious discrimination if they have the same policy for all hats etc. I don't agree with their decision, but it is their decision to make.
Some might wonder why a strict Muslim wanted to work in a place like this at all, if she feels so strongly about the importance of female modesty. However, I don't necessarily see that as a problem; I knew a girl in Durham who was vegetarian but worked in a butcher's shop, because she didn't try to force her views on anyone else. Really, it depends on whether Miss Noah was trying to find a compromise that suited everyone or whether she just wanted an excuse to whine. As with Mr Mott, she may be in a position where she has to go outside her "community" to pursue this line of work.
The related issue is legal action; quoting from the Telegraph article: "Miss Noah wants £15,000 for injury to her feelings plus an unspecified amount for lost earnings." I don't like the "compensation culture" that seems to be growing in this country, but if the salon was wrong to reject her then the claim for lost earnings seems reasonable. However, claiming £15,000 because someone's hurt your feelings is just ridiculous! For one thing, how exactly did she come up with that figure? Is there some formula, e.g. £100 for each minute that you spend crying? Similarly, will the money make that pain go away? If this was intended as punitive damages against a millionaire then it might make sense, but Miss Desrosiers says that this is more than she earns in a year, so this seems quite extreme. Really, I think someone just needs to tell Miss Noah: "That's life, shit happens, get over it."
(I discussed a similar case last year, when Jack Straw asked his female Muslim constituents to remove their veils.)
Edit: The tribunal ruled in favour of Miss Noah, and awarded her £4,000 damages for "injury to feelings". (Source: BBC News, 16-Jun-2008.)