Friday, 24 June 2011
WASHINGTON – Cheerful and optimistic, Riham Osman did not have in mind that her first day at work as an Air France employee would also be her last with the only reason for her dismissal being her religion.
“He said that apparently Air France has an issue with the scarf that they will not allow me to work because it violates their uniform policy,” Osman, 19, recalled to NBC news website when she was pulled from a training session on her first day at work on June 2.
The young Virginia woman was shocked to learn from the staffing agency Aerotk which hired her to be an Air France passenger service agent at Dulles airport that she cannot continue having the job while donning the headscarf.
“I think the fact that I was hired at first with my scarf on shows that Aerotek hired me according to my [qualifications],” Osman said.
Proud of her religion, Osman declined to take her hijab off and left the airport in tears.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Having seen her dream unfairly dashed, Osman decided to fight back for the sake of her beliefs.
Seeking an apology and compensation, she contacted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for help.
Aerotek, for its part, tried to distance itself from the row, saying it has asked Air France to make an exception to the dress code policy for Osman.
“Air France declined to make this accommodation and instructed us to end her assignment at Air France,” read a statement from Aerotek.
In response to Osman’s appeal, CAIR has filed a complaint with Air France, reminding the airline that, while noting an ongoing controversy in France about the legality of wearing a hijab, it is still operating on US soil.
“It is clear that a discriminatory dress code implemented in France would not supersede American laws protecting the religious rights of employees,” CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas said in a letter to Air France.
In 2004, the French government banned hijab in state schools and institutions, triggering several European countries to follow suit. It also enacted a law banning the wearing of face-veil – burqa or niqab – in public places.
“Air France must follow American law and grant reasonable religious accommodations for its employees,” Abbas said in the letter sent to Patrick Roux, vice president and general manager for Air France, US Operations.
The advocacy group said it wants the French airline to apologize, give a clarification of its policy on religious accommodation for employees and compensation for the loss and emotional distress suffered by Osman.
A spokesperson for the airline acknowledged the company received a letter from CAIR but would say only that Air France is investigating the incident.
But for Osman, there are no regrets for taking the hard choice.
“The hijab, to me, it’s empowerment,” she said.
“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.”