A Muslim woman yesterday won a landmark judgment against a security firm for discrimination on the basis of her religious beliefs.
Giselle Glaude, 31, of St Joseph, wore her hijab (Muslim head covering) in the Tribunal Court of the Equal Opportunity Commission in Chaguanas as judge/chairman Rajmanlal Joseph ruled in her favour against her former employers, Quality Security Bodyguard Services Limited.
She was awarded $150,000 by Joseph with an interest rate of six per cent per annum from the date of the filing of the complaint to payment. The other two lay assessors were Leela Ramdeen and Harridath Maharaj.
The case stemmed from allegations made by Glaude that she was discriminated against by the security company.
On March 26, 2012, Glaude was dismissed as a security guard for failing to wear the approved uniform. She was accused of modifying the uniform by wearing a hijab shortly after becoming a Muslim on July 9, 2011.
The security company said Glaude had violated its uniform code, which said the uniform was approved by the Ministry of National Security and from which they did not wish to deviate.
When Glaude refused to comply with instructions not to wear the hijab, the company said it considered her refusal to remove her hijab to be an act of gross misconduct.
The commission had heard that on July 27, 2007, Glaude was assigned to work at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mount Hope. On July 9, 2011, she converted to Islam and in October 2011 she began wearing the hijab.
Sometime in August 2011, Glaude had a conversation with Colin Lange, the firm's operations supervisor, asking whether ishe could to wear the hijab while on duty.
She was told she was free to wear any garment in accordance with her religious belief. After that conversation, Glaude began wearing the hijab.
However, on February 27, 2012, Glaude was asked to attend a meeting with Lange and was instructed to write a letter to the Human Resource Department concerning her religion and her need to wear the hijab.
On March 5, 2012, she was told if she continued to wear the hijab on duty, which conflicted with the uniform code, she would have to make other arrangements regarding her employment.
Ten days later Claude was served a "notice of intended action" for gross misconduct.
On March 22, 2012, she attended a disciplinary hearing, after which she was informed that she was found guilty of the charge and was terminated. The formal termination letter was dated March 26, 2012.
In delivering his judgment yesterday, Joseph said there was not one scintilla of evidence offered by the security company to suggest that any efforts were made to get any sort of clarification from the Ministry of National Security that wearing the hijab with the approved uniform would be unacceptable.
"To be sure, the respondent did not offer to the tribunal any evidence, oral or written, to the effect that the uniform that was said to be approved by the Ministry of National Security was in fact so approved," Joseph said.
He said it appeared to the tribunal that the haste with which the disciplinary machine was engineered and the fact that the company utterly failed to advise Glaude of her right to appeal the termination decision, it was highly suggestive the company wanted to get rid of Glaude for adopting the Muslim faith.
'I got answers in Islam'
Speaking with the T&T Guardian after her victory, Glaude, who was all smiles, advised women who were in a position like she was in to "stand firm in your belief. Don't let anybody deter you."
Speaking on the trauma she went through after her termination, Glaude, who was the sole breadwinner in her household, said she felt "heartbroken" and "blacklisted." She said turning to Islam, for her, was a spiritual upliftment.
"Ever since a child I was interested in finding out what Islam is all about. I was looking for a family and for comfort and I found it in Islam. I had a lot of questions and I got my answers when I accepted the faith," Glaude said.
She added that given her experience when she converted, she was adamant not to turn her back on her newly-found faith.
Now that Glaude had stood her ground and fought for her religious belief, she said her next step would be one that she would have to carefully think about.
"Actually, just as the sisters in the mosque supported me every step of the way, I think I will now be looking at supporting women who are facing discrimination like I did.
"I am also sure that some of them may not even realise that they are being discriminated against and I want to be here for them," Glaude said.
Glaude's attorney, Jason Nathu, said he hoped the case would encourage more people to come forward before the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.
"There are many groups in society who are discriminated against and I am thankful that there are more avenues to access justice," he added.