AMMAN, Jordan — A Christian Jordanian woman said Sunday she is suing her Gulf Arab employer for arbitrary dismissal after she refused a new dress code forcing her to cover her head.
The incident is rare and could stir religious tensions in Jordan, a predominantly conservative Muslim nation whose Western-educated ruler – King Abdullah II – is perceived as a staunch supporter of moderate Islam and tolerance of other religions.
"We are not in Iran, we are in Jordan, and we must continue to enjoy personal and religious freedoms as stipulated by our constitution," said Vivian Salameh, 45, an assistant manager of corporate operations at the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank since March 2010 until she was fired a week ago.
"I'm Christian. Why should I wear something not dictated by my religion?" she said in an interview.
Christians make up nearly 4 percent of the country's 6 million population.
Bank spokeswoman Eman Affaneh confirmed that Salameh was fired because "she refused to comply with the terms of her contract, which stipulates that all employees must respect management regulations and bank bylaws."
"We are an Islamic establishment and the dress code is a reflection of our conservative Muslim traditions and values," she said.
Salameh says she had worked for Jordan's Industrial Development Bank for 25 years until it was acquired in 2010 by the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank – an offshoot of the Dubai Islamic Bank based in the United Arab Emirates. In January 2011, the new management issued a new regulation stipulating a unified dress code for its workers, including waist-to-heel skirts and head covers for female employees.
Salameh accepted the uniform, but refused to wear the head cover on grounds that it violated her religious beliefs and since the contract she signed when she was hired did not oblige her to a dress code.
Affaneh, the spokeswoman, said the headcover "is a fashionable piece of white cloth that shows the hair line – like what women wear in the Gulf Arab countries."
"It's not a headscarf, covering all the hair," she added.
She and Salameh said that five other Christian women employees at the bank accepted wearing the headcover.
When Salameh refused the head cover, "no action was taken against me for nearly 17 months until two weeks ago, when I was suddenly given two notices, five days apart, warning me that I will lose my job if I don't wear the head cover," she said.
"When I stuck by my decision, I was verbally fired last Sunday," she said, adding that she filed a lawsuit against the bank.
The next legal step would be for the court to decide when it would hear the case.
Affaneh, the spokeswoman, says the bank has not been notified of the lawsuit.
"Her contract allows her to do what she wants," she said. She declined to discuss the matter further.