Job agency fined for religious discrimination

Sweden’s National Public Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) has been fined for discriminating against a Muslim man who had his benefits withdrawn after refusing to shake the hand of a female CEO.

According to a ruling in the Stockholm District Court on Monday, the agency has been ordered to pay 60,000 kronor ($8,000) to the man after it withdrew him from a labour market training scheme when he refused to shake the hand of a female CEO at a firm with which he was seeking work experience.

The court ruled that the agency was aware that the man’s religious convictions prevented him from shaking hands with women he did not know.

The company elected not to offer the man an internship, later arguing that the decision was taken due to his lack of appropriate skills and experience.

The man lost his job seeker’s allowance in May 2006 as a result of his withdrawal from the programme, and he reported the matter to the Discrimination Ombudsman (DO).

DO found in favour of the man’s assertion that he had been discriminated against and applied to the court to order the agency to pay 120,000 kronor in compensation.

According to Swedish law, after probable cause has been established for a case of discrimination, the onus is on the opponent to prove that it did not take place.

The court ruled that the agency had not been able to prove that the decision to withdraw him from the programme was not connected to his religion and thus ordered the payment of 60,000 kronor in compensation for violation of religious freedom.

The court conceded that although the violation appeared to have occurred unintentionally, the man had as a result suffered significant consequences and financial loss.