Swedish Muslim woman who refused handshake from male interviewer wins compensation case

A Swedish Muslim woman, whose job interview was ended after she refused to shake hands with a male interviewer due to her faith, has won a compensation. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Swedish Muslim woman who refused handshake from male interviewer wins compensation case

  • Farah Alhajjeh, 24, was being interviewed for a job as an interpreter last year
  • When she declined to shake the hand of a male interviewer for religious reasons, the meeting was terminated

LONDON: A Swedish Muslim woman, whose job interview was ended after she refused to shake hands with a male interviewer due to her faith, has won a compensation case in a Swedish Labor Court ruling.
Farah Alhajjeh, 24, was being interviewed for a job as an interpreter last year, and when she declined to shake the hand of a male interviewer for religious reasons, the meeting was terminated.
Alhajjeh, instead, placed her hand over her heart in greeting.
Sweden’s Discrimination Ombudsmen took the case to the Labor Court, who ruled on Thursday that the company had discriminated against her and ordered it to pay 40,000 kronor ($4,350) in compensation.
During the case, the company had admitted that germophobia and autism were among its “legitimate” reasons for not shaking hands, but it argued that its policy called for employees to treat all colleagues equally no matter their sex.
By refusing to shake hands with a male colleague, AlHajjeh’s actions had gone against that policy, it said.
Some Muslims choose to avoid physical contact with members of the opposite sex, except for those in their immediate family.
AlHajjeh argued that in situations where both men and women were present, she would greet women in the same way – by smiling and moving one hand to the heart – to not make the men feel excluded.
The Labor Court said in its ruling that understanding AlHajjeh’s 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.”
Speaking to the BBC, AlHajjeh said she believed it was important to “never give in when convinced that one is in the right.”
“I believe in God, which is very rare in Sweden... and I should be able to do that and be accepted as long as I’m not hurting anyone.
“In my country... you cannot treat women and men differently. I respect that. That’s why I don’t have any physical contact with men or with women. I can live by the rules of my religion and also at the same time follow the rules of the country that I live in,” she added.


US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, photo provided by the ACLU of Montana, Martha Hernandez, left, and Ana Suda pose in front of a convenience store in Havre, Mont., where they say they were detained by a U.S Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish last year. (AP)
Updated 16 February 2019
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US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

  • The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre

LOS ANGELES: Two US women detained by a border patrol agent in the state of Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store have sued the country’s border protection agency.
Video of the incident — which took place last May in the small town of Havre — showed Agent Paul O’Neal tell Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez that he had asked to see their identification as it was unusual to hear Spanish speakers in the state, which borders Canada.
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking,” he said.
“It’s not illegal, it’s just very unheard of up here,” he told the women.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre.
Suda and Hernandez say in the lawsuit that O’Neal detained them for 40 minutes.
California native Hernandez and Suda, who was born in Texas, said they were standing in line to buy milk and eggs when the agent — who was standing behind them — commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked the women where they were born.
“I asked, ‘Are you serious’?” Suda said, according to the lawsuit. “Agent O’Neal responded that he was ‘dead serious’.”
The two women say they were then asked to show identification and questioned outside the store, before eventually being released.
“The incident itself is part of a broader pattern that we’ve seen of abusive tactics by border patrol which has gotten worse since the Trump administration, which has left border patrol officers feeling emboldened to take actions like this,” Cody Wofsy, an attorney with the ACLU, told AFP.
“This has been devastating for (Suda and Hernandez),” he added.
“Havre is a small town, they felt ostracized and humiliated and made to feel unwelcome in their own town and in their own country.”
He noted the United States has no official language, with Spanish by far the most common language spoken after English.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the case.
“As a matter of policy, US Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” he told AFP in a statement. “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”