An aspiring criminal lawyer who came to New Zealand as a refugee from Afghanistan was turned away from a job interview because of her Muslim headscarf.
Fatima Mohammadi, 20, a former deputy head girl at Kelston Girls' College who featured in her hijab on the college billboard that sits on a main Auckland thoroughfare, said it was the first time she'd been subjected to such discrimination.
"I never thought I'd have to go through such a thing because of something I wear, I felt humiliated," she told the Weekend Herald. "I went from home all ready for an interview, to get a fair chance at it but I got told because of my scarf I wouldn't even get an interview."
Yesterday with family members at her Glen Eden home, Ms Mohammadi became tearful when describing how it felt to have her hopes for a new job dashed.
The second-eldest of five siblings, Ms Mohammadi had hoped to get a summer job to help her family out. Her father, Abdul Mohammadi, a taxi driver, was the family's only bread-winner.
The second-year law and arts student at Auckland University had applied for a job at Stewart Dawsons/Pascoes in Henderson Mall. She has been in New Zealand since she was 7 and speaks English fluently.
Although this was to be her first job, her CV shows a lengthy list of school achievements and extra-curricular activities, including soccer, netball, tennis and debating. She's also done some baby-sitting work and was a maths, history and English tutor at the college.
But when Ms Mohammadi turned up for her interview on Thursday morning, it was cut short when the manager of the Stewart Dawson store told her that wearing a hijab was against company policy.
"She said if I wanted to work for them I'd have to take off my hijab. She said, I quote, 'This is New Zealand'."
When Ms Mohammadi refused, the manager told her there was no point in continuing with the interview. A male manager from the company's Pascoes store said nothing throughout the exchange.
"It wasn't because of my lack of experience; it was a direct target to my hijab, so I just left."
Ms Mohammadi said she had chosen to wear the hijab when she was in high school once she understood its significance.
"For me it gives me confidence. It's who I am ... it represents me as an individual."
Her father was also quite upset. "It's a very sad story for us, she told us yesterday, I'm shocked."
Mr Mohammadi said his daughter was hard-working and often up late studying.
She said if I wanted to work for them I'd have to take off my hijab. She said, I quote, 'This is New Zealand.'
James Pascoe group chief financial officer Kevin Turner was horrified to hear of Ms Mohammadi's experience. He said it was by no means reflective of the company's policy and offered its apologies.
"This is by no means how we run our business. The interview should never have been done that way," he said.
"We have employees who wear the hijab."
Mr Turner said she would be invited back for a second interview. Ms Mohammadi confirmed the company had been in touch and planned to take up its offer of another interview.
She had also lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
Mr Turner said the company had spoken to the employee involved and made it clear such act ions were not okay.
He said the company would also be reviewing its education and training around such issues.
Discrimination against a person on the basis of their religious clothing is in violation of the Human Rights Act 1993 unless there is "good reason for it" such as a significant health and safety concern.