A claim of discrimination made by a woman whose employers asked her to cover a tattoo has been dismissed by the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

In May last year Claire Haupini, 32, who worked as a casual worker for the Spit Roast Catering Company in Auckland, was asked to cover up the tattoo on her left forearm, which evoked her Whakatohea and Ngaphui tribal links.

Working at a corporate function, Mrs Haupini was asked to wear a three-quarter shirt instead of a shorter-sleeved one being worn by workmates.

The tribunal heard the request left her angry, distressed and humiliated and brought her to tears on several occasions.

But the company argued that the employer’s request that a tattoo be covered for work purposes was a means of achieving a legitimate objective relating to the appearance of staff.

In the decision, tribunal chairman Royden Hindle said the case could not be considered to be one of “direct discrimination” – discrimination based on the fact Mrs Haupini was Maori.

Instead, the tribunal had to consider whether “indirect discrimination” was evident; specifically, whether the requirement that Mrs Haupini should cover her “moko” was one that had a disproportionate negative effect on her because of her race and/or ethnicity.

Her lawyers argued that the request affected Mrs Haupini’s mana and that “Maori experience the rule as disrespectful of their whakapapa, cultural tradition and custom”.

“A non-Maori person would not experience such detriment as a result of a ‘no tattoos’ policy.”

However, while the tribunal accepted mana had been affected, Mrs Haupini’s further arguments couldn’t be upheld when no evidence was presented about the proportion of Maori who would be offended by being asked to cover up.

The tribunal did not accept non-Maori would not experience detriment, and dismissed the case because of insufficient evidence.

Company director Graham Peet said he was pleased with the outcome. “We feel the judgment brings a common sense approach to the reasonable concerns a company has in managing the appearance of its staff when working in a frontline role.”

– NZ Herald