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