The Swedish Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination is suing the Swedish Employment Agency for $27,000 in damages to a Muslim man who lost his benefits after refusing to shake a wman’s hand during an interview. In May, 2006, the man applied for a trainee position as a welder at a company in Aimhult in southern Sweden. During the interview, the man declned to shake hands with the woman interviewing him, citing religious reasons that do not allow him physical contact with women outside his family. He explained this to the woman, and then placed his handon his chest and bowed. Not only did he not get the job, but his unemployment benefits were removed.
The company claimed the man was refused employment due to his competency in welding, but the Ombudsman believes denial was based on religious grounds. The handshaking incident was intepreted as “indirect discrimination.”
This is an interesting case. Taking a job as a welder might at some point having physcial contact wth other welders, partiularly in a threatening situation. Would the man refuse having contact with a female welder if it was a life threatening situation? Would it be discrimination if the man was applying for a sales position which in western societies ordinarily requires extensive physical contact with customers?