A Swedish Muslim woman has been awarded financial compensation after claiming she was discriminated against in a job interview upon declining to shake hands with a male interviewer.
24-year-old Farah Alhajeh was interviewing for a job as an interpreter at Semantix, a language services company in the city of Uppsala.
Due to religious reasons, instead of shaking the man’s hand, she said she smiled and placed her hand on her heart while explaining her religious objection to physical touch.
This action was followed by her being shown the elevator out, she told the New York Times.
“It was like a punch in the face,” she said. “It was the first time someone reacted, and it was a really harsh reaction.”
“As soon as I got to the elevator, I cried,” she told Swedish news channel SVT.
Semantix said that as a defender of sex equality it could not hire someone who would react differently to men and women who offered a handshake in greeting.
However, according to Sweden’s discrimination ombudsman’s office, which represented Alhajeh, the court ruled in favor of Alhajeh because “the woman’s refusal to shake hands with people of the opposite sex is a religious manifestation that is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court said, that although the company was right to require employees to treat men and women the same, it could not demand that greetings involved shaking hands.
“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,” Alhajeh told reporters after the judgement.
“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.