Equality Ombudsman sued for discrimination

An employee at an agency tasked with defending Sweden’s anti-discrimination laws has sued the organization for discrimination following disparaging comments by a supervisor.

The complaint comes from a 60-year-old female employee with Sweden’s Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen – DO) whose boss said she was an “old witch” who was “obstinate” during a performance review.

The woman also reported her supervisor for “unwanted verbal harassment” related to her skin colour, ethnic background, gender, and age.

The 60-year-old further charges that DO leadership failed to adequately address her allegations by refusing to treat the case like any other complaint the agency might receive about workplace harassment.

According to the woman’s complaint, the agency’s handling of the matter “insulted NN’s dignity in a way which stands in conflict with the Discrimination Act’s prohibition against harassment”.

She is now seeking 175,000 kronor ($24,700) in compensation in a lawsuit filed with the Stockholm District Court.

The employee, a native of Eritrea, was shocked by an email sent by her supervisor to employees in her department in which he dismissed a complaint received by the agency.

In the message, the supervisor also suggested there was connection between ethnicity and the likelihood of HIV infection.

“My impression is that this is primarily a matter of insulting treatment even if she was subject to the spreading of rumours about HIV (it may have had another meaning/significance if the girl was black or from a country suffering from HIV but at this point we don’t know anything about that) – and was called a whore on one occasion,” the supervisor wrote in the email.

When the 60-year-old confronted her supervisor about the appropriateness of the email, the supervisor cut her off saying “there’s nothing that strange about it; HIV exists in Eritrea, your homeland, for example. I know where you come from and HIV is endemic there”.

Following an initial internal investigation into the matter, DO leadership admitted to the woman that her supervisor’s actions were discriminatory. The Equality Ombudsman herself, Katri Linna, even called the woman to tell her she regretted what had happened, according to the woman’s allegations.

But when the 60-year-old then asked to have her initial complaint treated like any other discrimination case, DO management changed its tune, suddenly coming up with “new information” which resulted in a reversal in the agency’s earlier, internal admission of discrimination.

According to the DO, the new evidence consisted of claims that the initial investigation never revealed that the supervisor’s insulting comments were made only to the 60-year-old, rather than in front of other employees in the division.

But the woman maintains that there was never any reference to the comments being made in public and that the DO’s attempt to nullify its earlier admission of discrimination is “nothing but a retroactive construction and a perversion of the facts”.

DO administrator Ulrica Engström Nilsson, who led the internal investigation of the matter, insisted, however, that the 60-year-old’s complaint didn’t amount to a case of discrimination.

“We’ve made an assessment that the actions which took place do not, either taken together, or in and of themselves, amount to discrimination,” Nilsson told Svergies Radio (SR).

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