Reduced court win in gender discrimination case violates UN treaty, women’s groups say

(From left) Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, lawyer Honey Tan, pupil Arina Ong, Noorfadilla's husband Izwan, and lawyer Joachim Xavier, after the judgment at the Shah Alam High Court. — Picture courtesy of Honey Tan
(From left) Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin, lawyer Honey Tan, pupil Arina Ong, Noorfadilla's husband Izwan, and lawyer Joachim Xavier, after the judgment at the Shah Alam High Court. — Picture courtesy of Honey Tan

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 — The Shah Alam High Court decision to slash an award of RM300,000 in damages to RM30,000 for Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin in a landmark gender discrimination case is in violation of a United Nations treaty, women’s groups said today.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality (JAG) noted that an earlier court decision in 2011 which favoured Noorfadilla, who sued the government for revoking her job offer as a temporary teacher due to her pregnancy, had recognised for the first time in Malaysian legal history the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw) that Malaysia has ratified.

“The treatment of Noorfadilla in this judgment, is a clear breach of Malaysia’s obligation under Cedaw, as recognised by the judgement of the High Court back in 2011,” JAG said in a statement.

“Cedaw ensures that employers may not dismiss employees on the grounds of pregnancy, and this High Court judgement has undermined Malaysia’s commitment and diluted what was an earlier ground-breaking judgement,” the women’s groups added.

Malay Mail Online reported that Shah Alam High Court judicial commissioner Datuk Azimah Omar reduced this week 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 34-year-old.

The original RM300,000 awarded in 2014 was damages for breach of Noorfadilla’s constitutional right to gender equality, after she won a lawsuit in 2011 against the government for revoking her appointment as a temporary teacher back in 2009 when she was three months’ pregnant.

Azimah ruled that Noorfadilla 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. Noorfadilla had, however, come forth about her pregnancy when education officers asked about it at a briefing two weeks later and her placement notice was immediately retracted.

JAG criticised today Azimah’s comments and said pregnancy, or the intention to have children, had no bearing on a woman’s ability to perform her job.

“The use of such language is harmful as it suggests that women must disclose their pregnancy during a job interview, which is not a requirement of Malaysian law, and implies that a woman’s ability to work effectively is inherently linked to her pregnancy status,” said JAG.

“The state does not and should not have the power to take away the right and liberty of a woman to have children by requiring disclosure of pregnancy at job interviews. Any form of law requiring full disclosure of pregnancy is an implicit exertion of state power and control over a woman’s reproductive rights,” they added.

JAG also expressed concern about Azimah’s remarks claiming that Noorfadilla was profiting from the RM300,000 award and that the 34-year-old would have required 10 years’ work to make that amount of money.

“Datuk Azimah commented that Noorfadilla, ‘knowingly acted to garner the benefit to employment,’ and would be unable to earn RM300,000 in ten years of work, inappropriately framing her as a benefiter of her circumstances rather than as a woman who has faced discrimination,” said JAG.

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