Gender sensitisation training needed, lawyer says after woman’s RM300,000 court win reduced

Honey Tan (pic), co-counsel for Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, said that there are no legal requirements in Malaysia to disclose pregnancy and that it is also not illegal to ask job candidates if they are pregnant. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Honey Tan (pic), co-counsel for Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, said that there are no legal requirements in Malaysia to disclose pregnancy and that it is also not illegal to ask job candidates if they are pregnant. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 — The Shah Alam High Court decision to slash an award of RM300,000 in damages to RM30,000 for a woman in a landmark gender discrimination lawsuit against the government shows there is need to conduct gender sensitisation training, the woman’s lawyer said.

Honey Tan, co-counsel for Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, pointed out that when her client’s case was called for decision in 2014, it was Shah Alam High Court deputy registrar Ahmad Rizki Abdul Jalil who decided on the quantum of the award.

The sum of RM300,000, she said, was never suggested during submissions.

“So to say that there was ‘profiteering’ is quite shocking,” Tan told Malay Mail Online.

“It is not the reduction in the amount of damages that is shocking, but the judicial commissioner’s comments and reasons for her decision.

“It shows clearly that training in gender sensitisation, understanding the applicability of international law and standards, knowledge of Cedaw and understanding state obligations in implementing the principles in Cedaw are urgently needed,” the lawyer said, adding that her client would appeal the ruling.

Cedaw refers to the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, a human rights treaty that Malaysia ratifies.

On Monday, Shah Alam High Court judicial commissioner Datuk Azimah Omar reduced the award in damages for Noorfadilla by 90 per cent to RM30,000 after finding the original sum of RM300,000 to be inappropriate and tantamount to a “handsome profit” for the woman.

The final RM30,000 sum is damages for breach of Noorfadilla’s constitutional rights as well as for emotional and mental distress. In the previous 2014 decision, Noorfadilla had been awarded separate damages of RM25,000 for emotional and mental distress.

According to the facts of the case, Noorfadilla did not reveal her pregnancy at a job interview in Hulu Langat for a temporary teacher position in 2009 when she was three months’ pregnant. She was also not asked if she was pregnant.

At a briefing two weeks later where she collected a placement notice, she and other attendees were asked to come forth if they were pregnant, to which she and two other women complied and had their placement notices retracted the same day.

Noorfadilla sued the government in 2010. The Shah Alam High Court later ruled in 2011 that the government had discriminated against Noorfadilla and, in a landmark decision, held that Cedaw had the force of law in Malaysia.

But in Azimah’s ruling Monday, although gender discrimination existed in Noorfadilla’s case, the woman should also be held to blame for her own ordeal as she had “not been completely honest” about her pregnancy, having failed to disclose it at the job interview.

Tan said in response that there are no legal requirements in Malaysia to disclose pregnancy and that it is also not illegal to ask job candidates if they are pregnant.

“So we were very taken aback when the judicial commissioner held that the so-called non-disclosure ‘aggravated’ Noorfadilla’s own situation and contributed to the pain and suffering she experienced.

“In fact, at the very first instance the issue of pregnancy was raised, Noorfadilla came right out to say that she was pregnant—and reaped the consequences of her honesty,” said the lawyer.   

In the US, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978 makes it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women at work and prohibits companies from asking a potential employee if she is pregnant or plans to have children, according to the American Association of University Women.

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