France's top court ruled on Tuesday that a Muslim woman who was fired from her job for wearing the Islamic headscarf at work was unfairly dismissed on the basis of her religion.
In a landmark decision, the Court of Cassation overturned an earlier ruling by an appeal court in Versailles which had upheld the right of her employer to dismiss the woman after she refused to remove her headscarf, AFP reported.
Any overt religious symbols, including Jewish kippot, are banned from French state schools, which operate on strictly secular lines.
However the Court of Cassation ruled that this principle could not be applied to the woman's case because she was employed by a private creche, or day nursery, meaning her civil right to express her religious faith prevailed.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls told parliament that the court's ruling was regrettable on the grounds that it "calls into question the principle of secular education," according to AFP.
The woman, who had just returned to work after a five-year break to bring up her children, was dismissed in December 2008 after refusing to remove her scarf when told to by the management of the "Baby Wolf" creche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes to the west of Paris.
The creche had defended the dismissal on the basis of its own internal rules, which required employees to be neutral in matters of philosophy, politics and faith.
France has since banned the wearing of niqabs - veils which cover the full face - in public but that controversial legislation would have had no bearing on this case.
A survey conducted in October of last year by the French Institute of Public Opinion and published by the Le Figaro newspaper revealed that French voters have been growing increasingly uneasy about the increasing Muslim population in the country.
The survey found that 60% of French respondents believe that Islam has become "too visible and influential" in France -- up from 55% in an earlier survey two years before.
The poll also reveals that 43% of French people consider the presence of Muslim immigrants to be a threat to French national identity, compared to just 17% who say it enriches society.
France, which is home to an estimated six million Muslims, has the largest Muslim population in the European Union.