Sweden: Muslim woman wins religious discrimination case

17th Aug 2018
Sweden: Muslim woman wins religious discrimination case

 

By Atila Altuntas

 

STOCKHOLM (AA): A Muslim woman will get 40,000 Swedish krona ($4,366) in damages from a company that discriminated against her faith-based choices during a job interview, a Swedish court ruled late Wednesday.

Farah Alhajeh’s job interview in Uppsala, eastern Sweden was cancelled when she did not shake hands with the interviewer due to her religious beliefs, but instead chose to bow her head, according to a statement by Sweden’s equality ombudsman.

Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsman took the case to the Labour Court last year.

The Swedish Labour Court ruled that she was indirectly discriminated against.

The Court said in its ruling that understanding her religious reasons for preferring such a greeting meant “there is no reason to perceive (it) as degrading or as a rejection and it would therefore not have to lead to conflicts in the workplace”.

“Nothing indicated that the woman would not be able to function in a gender equal workplace or that her religion would cause obstacles or difficulties in the work or for the business”.

It also criticized the policy “for excluding those people who interpret Islam in the same way” as the woman, but did note that the employer’s intent had not been to discriminate against her.

When ruling on damages owed to the woman, it took that into account and the fact that it was impossible to determine if she would have been given the job had the interview been completed.

The 24-year-old Farah Alhajeh went for a job interview with a company providing interpretation services via telephone or video. But when she declined to shake hands with one of the interviewers, a male manager, he terminated the meeting

The company admitted that it considered germophobia and autism legitimate reasons for not shaking hands, but argued that its policy called for employees to treat all colleagues equally no matter their sex.

The company, for its part, claims that greetings other than handshakes are unacceptable. Faith-based greetings discriminate between sexes, are offensive, and can lead to workplace conflict, it claimed.

The Farah Alhajeh argued that in situations where both men and women are present, she greets women in the same way – by smiling and moving one hand to the heart – to not make the men feel excluded.

“The money was never important. That doesn’t matter at all. The important thing for me was that I was right,” Alhajeh said, according to Swedish state television SVT.

“I hope I can give hope to other Muslims who go through the same thing and feel there’s no point in going on with it,” she added.

“For the first time, we have a case on a handshake,” said Clas Lundstedt, the ombudsman’s press spokesman.

Additional report by The Muslim News

[Map of Sweden By P S Burton/Creative Commons]

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