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Woman accuses Air France of religious discrimination

By Kim I. Hartman     Jun 25, 2011 in Travel
Herndon - A Muslim woman is demanding an apology from Air France and asking travelers to boycott the airline after she was terminated from her job at Dulles International Airport because of her refusal to remove the hijab she wears for religious reasons.

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Riham Osman is claiming an Air France supervisor confronted her on her first day at work with the airline company and told her Air France "would not allow her to wear the hijab at work because it violates their uniform policy."
The 19-year-old Herndon woman told NBC that she wears the head scarf "as a sign of her faith."
“The hijab, to me, it’s empowerment. When people, men and women, talk to me, they’re looking at my personality, they’re listening to what I’m saying, they know that I stand for something,” Osman said in the interview.
The woman said she was hired by Aerotek for a position with Air France as a passenger service agent at the Virginia airport. Osman said she was wearing the headscarf during her interview with Aerotek. She claims, based on her employment history, that she was qualified for the position but instead of completing her first day on the job with Air France she was instead asked to leave the employee training session held at the Dulles airport.
Osman said she complied with Air France's request and left the airport in tears.
When contacted by Osman, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stepped up to help her by filing a discrimination complaint and by sending a letter to Air France which NBC obtained a copy of from Osman. In the letter CAIR said, “It is clear that a discriminatory dress code implemented in France would not supersede American laws protecting the religious rights of employees. Air France must follow American law and grant reasonable religious accommodations for its employees.”
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees the right of employees to wear the hijab in the workplace. Employers are obligated to provide accommodation unless the can prove it will create an undue hardship. "Courts have found undue hardship in cases where the accommodation diminished efficiency, infringed on other employees job rights, created a workplace safety hazard or a potentially dangerous situation for the worker or co-workers," according to the Michigan Law Connection.
Aerotek said in a statement on the incident that they had contacted the airline about making a religious accommodation for Osman and were told that "Air France declined to make this accommodation to their dress code and instructed Aerotek to end Osman's assignment."
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has "documented an increase in the number of charges alleging workplace discrimination based on religion and/or national origin since 9/11." The EEOC said "an employer may not refuse to hire someone because of his or her religion, national origin, race or color."
CAIR said in the first three months of 2010 forty complaints were filed with the EEOC over discriminatory practices based on women wearing the hijab on the job.
Complaints over the Muslim headscarf involved companies that included Abercrombie and Fitch, who refused to allow a teen to stock shelves while wearing her headscarf at a California store. In Michigan, a 19-year-old Muslim teenager claimed that "she was denied a job at a McDonald's because she insisted on wearing what her prospective manager called that thing."
A Disneyland employee filed suit after she was allegedly sent home without pay on seven separate occasions for wearing the hijab at her job as a restaurant hostess at a Disney Resort. In that case the woman had worked without the headscarf for two years before "deciding one day to start wearing her headscarf to work."
Disney officials say they attempted to accommodate the woman by providing a number of options. Disney said in a statement to ABC News that "She asked that the costume be altered. Those alterations were made and a modified costume was presented to her that meets our costuming guidelines and which we believe provides an accommodation of her religious beliefs. We also provided four different roles that she could transition to that would allow her to wear her own hijab. She has twice chosen to reject all of the options that we've presented."
The Michigan Employment Law Blog said with the "growing trend of religious discrimination" cases filed that "employers need to recognize that the EEOC is very aggressive in pursuing religious discrimination based on dress, and how it's applied."
In the Osman's case, NBC reported "Air France said they are investigating the incident."
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