Handshake ordeal leads to Swedish town paying fine

May 20, 2013 at 5:09 PM
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TROLLHATTAN, Sweden, May 20 (UPI) -- A Swedish town has agreed to pay a man civil damages after an official said he couldn't have an internship if he wasn't comfortable shaking hands with women.

An unidentified man was granted an internship in the Trollhattan office of integration and was undergoing a final meeting with a female supervisor. When the woman went to shake the man's hand he refused, citing religious views that he said prevented him from shaking a woman's hand without washing immediately afterward. The man's religion wasn't reported.

The supervisor offered the man hand sanitizer but he refused. At that point, she said he wouldn't be allowed to work in the office if he couldn't shake a woman's hand and revoked the internship, Swedish news agency TT said Monday.

The man reported the incident to Sweden's Equality Ombudsman who said the office was planning an investigation. Rather than go through the process, town officials said they would pay 30,000 kroner in damages to the man ($4,500) to settle the case. Under Swedish criminal law, victims of discrimination are entitled to financial damages.

The case has gained national attention with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party threatening to report the incident to the nation's justice minister, alleging the real threat was to women's equality, not religious freedom.

"This case is extremely upsetting. ... It is absurd and makes a mockery of equality and Swedish values," party leader Jimmie Akesson said in a statement, noting, "equality is more important than multiculturalism."

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