PARIS  - A Paris appeal court on Wednesday upheld the right of a nursery to fire a female employee who insisted on wearing an Islamic headscarf at work.

The ruling, which came as the European Court of Human Rights began deliberations on an unrelated challenge to France’s so-called burqa ban, is the latest round of a long-running legal battle which has pitted France’s secular authorities against sections of the country’s large Muslim minority.

In its ruling, the appeal court overturned a controversial March 2013 verdict that the “Baby-Wolf” kindergarten in the Paris suburbs had been guilty of religious discrimination when it dismissed Fatima Afif in 2008.

Afif was sacked after telling her employer that, on her return to work following a five-year maternity break, she wished to wear a headscarf at work.

The head of the day nursery refused, citing the establishment’s rules that employees had to be neutral in terms of philosophy, politics and faith. That led to a stand-off and Afif being made redundant.

Wednesday’s verdict supporting the nursery’s action was hailed as a landmark decision by supporters of secular education.

But it was denounced by Muslim organisations who see the emphasis put on secular principles as a way of singling out their community and it is unlikely to be the end of the case.

Lawyers for Afif, 44, said it was “very probable” that they would launch another appeal and she has said she is prepared to take her case all the way to the ECHR.

In a recent interview she said she felt emancipated by her decision to wear the veil whenever she was in public and insisted: “I am not the standard bearer for any cause, I’m only seeking justice.”

Afif’s lawyer Michel Henry said Wednesday the judge had bowed to political pressure.

“They decided the verdict they wanted then filled in the blanks,” he said. “They have invented a legal requirement, the freedom of conscience for very small children, for which there is no provision in law.”

Any overt religious symbols - headscarves, Jewish skullcaps or Sikh turbans for example - are banned from French state schools, which operate on strictly secular lines.

But the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court of appeal, ruled in March that the principles underpinning this legislation could not be applied to a private nursery and that Afif’s right to express her religious faith therefore prevailed.

In the case currently before the ECHR, a British legal team is seeking to persuade the rights court to categorise the French law banning full-face veils as essentially discriminatory. A ruling is expected early next year.

The case has been brought in the name of a 23-year-old French woman who claims the burqa ban violates her rights to freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and a prohibition against discrimination.

The woman has requested anonymity and has been identified only by her initials, SAS. She has given written evidence that she is not constrained to wear the burqa by any man and that she is willing to remove it whenever required for security reasons - directly addressing the French authorities’ two main arguments in favour of the ban.

The French veil ban was introduced under former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right government but has been fully backed by the current Socialist government.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said recently the ban was “a law against practices that have nothing to do with our traditions and our values”.

Belgium and some parts of Switzerland have followed France’s lead and similar bans are being considered in Italy and The Netherlands.

Under the French law, approved in 2010 and implemented the following year, women wearing full-face veils can be fined up to 150 euros ($203).

Attempts to enforce the legislation have proved problematic with some arrests sparking confrontations, including one which triggered riots in the Paris suburb of Trappes earlier this year.