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Former state employees file suit challenging agency’s no-hijab rule

Katie Tabeling

Madinah Brown at a press conference on Oct. 2019. She is now one of three women that filed a federal lawsuit against a state agency for not allowing her to wear a hijab. | PHOTO COURTESY CAIR

WILMINGTON — Three Delaware women who claim they were prevented from wearing hijabs at their state jobs are filing a federal lawsuit, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Tia Mays said that after three days of working at the Ferris School for Boys, she resigned from her job after the administration told her that wearing a hijab was against uniform policy.

“I let them know it was not a hat, it was not a scarf. It was religious,” Mays said. She later gave the administration options to continue to cover her head according to the Muslim faith, but they were rejected.

She was not the only woman put in the position of choosing between their religious beliefs and their jobs at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families and their, according to CAIR Attorney Zanah Ghalawanji.

In fall 2019, Madinah Brown said that one of her supervisors told her she was “looking like a terrorist.”  Shakeya Thomas was told that her hijab posed a security hazard, although she was not told it would be an issue during her job interview.

Thomas was denied a transfer within the department so she could continue to wear the hijab. When told to remove the hijab or resign, Thomas chose to resign. Brown was forced to clock-out from her post when she did wear her hijab resulting in weeks with paychecks as low as $1. Ultimately, Brown left the post when she was also given a choice to remove the hijab or resign.

“Like so many women, these women were forced between covering their face and their livelihood as they worked for a Delaware agency,” Ghalawanji said. “No one should have to make that choice, especially since some of these women are struggling single mothers that depend on their paycheck.”

Today Brown is unemployed, while Thomas is currently working. Mays has a job in security, although she is not working currently due to the pandemic.

Patrick Gallagher, attorney with Jacobs & Crumplar who is representing the women alongside CAIR counsel, filed claims of hostile work environment, failure to accommodate for religious beliefs and constructive discharge.

“They did not quit. They were forced out because the situation was so intolerable that they were forced to resign,” Gallagher said.

In late 2019, CAIR filed a complaint with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Brown, and Mays and Thomas filed complaints with the Delaware Department of Labor. CAIR sought notice to sue to resolve the issue in a timely way through the federal courts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made things take a bit longer, so the hope is this request would help it move through the system,” Ghalawanji said. “There was an option of mediation to resolve issues, but unfortunately that did not happen. Our hope is that there will be some policy change for religious accommodations, and a good faith process in hiring and even sensitivity training moving forward.”

The Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families spokeswoman Jen Rini declined to comment on a pending legal matter.

“As a Department, we are committed to supporting diversity, inclusion and religious freedoms,” Rini wrote in an email. “The Department has always valued the diverse beliefs and experiences of our staff and the clients we serve, and we are dedicated to maintaining an inclusive environment for all.”

Katie Tabeling


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  1. Avatar photo
    Kathleen Kelly August 7, 2020

    There are rules at work. Some people have to wear a hairnet. Men if they have a beard have to wear a net. Many places you have to wear a hat. Other places you can’t wear a hat. Some you have to pull your hair up. No nail polish at a lot of jobs. Some you have to wear a particular uniform. Some jobs require a suit and tie. Professional woman have appropriate attire. . There are thing you can do and say at work. Others you cannot. Most of us are happy to have jobs. We follow the rules we knew were in place when we started. Why should the employer change their rules. If you don’t like your job with those particular rules you should leave. Do you think we should all sue over anything we don’t like. I get a headache if I wear a hat. When I worked where I had to wear a hat I did. When I had to work on Sunday even though it was my normal day to worship. Originally I had off on Sunday. They said they needed me to work. I had to make a decision to work or not. I chose to work because I was supporting my family. I could have choose to leave . I knew what I was working with. You don’t know what you may be getting into. Fortunately, since I worked with my employer on this; when he could give me off on Sunday he did. My point being. You are in charge of yourself. You always have a choice. Thank God we’re in America. No one decides everything for us. Deb Kelly.

    1. Avatar photo
      Ed Hall August 8, 2020

      Exactly right! Most likely a safety issue so the “guests of the state” can’t grab them by them and use them as a noose. They knew the regulations when they first started there. Unfortunately we now live in a world where the few think everything should be changed to accommodate them, and there is always an attorney ready and willing to sue whomever has “wrong Ed these poor victims.


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