A dental clinic in Netanya that wouldn’t hire a dentist because she wears a hijab (Muslim head covering) will have to pay her 40,000 shekels ($11,373) in compensation, the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court said Sunday in a precedent-setting ruling.
In a conversation with the dentist, which she recorded, the clinic director conceded that she had made a positive impression on the clinic’s staff members, but claimed the patients wouldn’t want her to treat them because of the hijab. The court found that the refusal to hire her constituted illegal discrimination.
The dentist, A., applied for a job at the New Shen Clinic. According to the ruling, during the interview with A. the owner and director of the clinic brought up the possibility of her removing her hijab for work. She rejected the suggestion and was later told that she didn’t get the job.
Around a week and a half after the interview, A. called the clinic director and recorded the conversation with him. During the conversation the director said, “I really asked my staff, and they all said that you looked pleasant and gentle and that you are surely a good dentist but everyone thought that this way, with the head covering, it wouldn’t work for us in the clinic … even if we would make you appointments and fill the schedule … people wouldn’t want … there would be a lot of problems with this … We’d have a lot of problems, which wouldn’t be justified, but we’d have problems with this. So you know, I’m left with the sympathy and the good intentions but I can’t fulfill them … I can’t fulfill it under these conditions.”
After she was denied the job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission contacted the clinic and argued that it had discriminated against A. because of her religion. In response, the clinic said it was backtracking, and that A. would be welcome to work at the clinic. But at that point A. wasn’t interested and filed a claim for 100,000 shekels in compensation for hiring discrimination.
She was represented by attorneys Gadeer Nicola and Rami Shomar of the Kav LaOved organization, with the Justice Ministry’s Equal Opportunity Employment Commissioner joining the suit.
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In its response to the commissioner, the clinic director said his intent had been to prevent “unpleasant situations that were likely to come up at the workplace against the backdrop of the prevailing reality in the country at the time, and this was, inter alia, out of concern for the applicant herself.”
The clinic told the court that its action was not religious discrimination because it was known that A. was an Arab when she was called to the interview, but at the time of the interview the security situation in the country was tense and there had been several terror attacks, which raises tensions between Arabs and Jews in Israel.
Lawyers Nicola and Shomar argued that the decision not to hire A. was based on stereotypes that regard the hijab as a sign of threat or danger. They also argued that the offer by the clinic to hire her after the equal employment bureau got in touch was not sincere and did nothing “to contribute to relieving the harm and humiliation to the plaintiff.”
The commission told the court that, “the argument by the defendant that seeks to justify not hiring the plaintiff out of concern for its clients must be rejected. The decision on whether to hire a worker must be based on an objective evaluation of the job requirements. The claim of looking out for the clients essentially expresses prejudice and the influence of stereotypes and unconscious tendencies.”
The commission also argued that there was no evidence to support the claim that patients would prefer to be treated by a dentist who didn’t wear a hijab.
In her ruling, Judge Michal Naim-Dibner and public representatives Elinora Weintraub and Rina Lanchner wrote that, “discrimination in general, and workplace discrimination in particular, isn’t just practiced by the wicked. By nature a person tends to associate with those who are like him and to be wary, to some degree or another, of those different from him.
Preserving equality and avoid discrimination, even if they are required as the basis of any society calling itself democratic and liberal, often demands an effort to deal with prejudice, stigmas and stereotypes aimed at those who differt from us in gender, religion, color, sexual orientation and more.”
The ruling also said the recorded conversation was evidence that the hijab was the only reason A. wasn’t hired, and that based on her resume and capabilities she was suitable for the job. It said the clinic had failed to prove its argument that A. wasn’t asked to remove her hijab but to “be flexible” about wearing it and concluded that “rejecting a candidate because of a prejudice constitutes illegal discrimination under the Equal Opportunity in Employment Law,” and that even an exceptional security situation doesn’t justify such treatment.