Muslim employee files discrimination complaint against NY DMV for not accommodating his schedule for Friday prayers

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) announced Monday that an employee filed a discrimination complaint against the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for not accommodating his schedule for his Friday prayers.

A 40-year-old Bengali American filed the complaint against the New York DMV on Friday after he said the department failed to adjust his schedule for Friday prayers and Ramadan after his repeated requests. He said in the complaint that it is his “sincerely held religious belief that I attend Friday congregational prayer.”

“Because I am observing my faith at work, my job is at risk,” he said in the complaint.

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The part-time employee was hired at the DMV in January and asked for an accommodation allowing him to attend Friday prayers for an hour by taking his lunch and office breaks at the same time. He received approval for that adjustment in February, allowing him to leave work for prayer, but it expired after three months, according to the complaint.

The man sent two requests in May asking for an extension of his accommodation and for the time to be pushed back an hour because Muslims use a lunar calendar for prayers. Meaning, the prayer times are altered throughout the year, according to the complaint.

The DMV rejected both requests, saying it could not accommodate “your request to leave during the day Friday’s for your religious observance.” 

“An essential function of your position is to work certain hours,” the complaint said the DMV representative told the employee. “Altering your schedule poses an undue hardship on the operational needs of the office.”

The employee also submitted a request to adjust his schedule for Ramadan from 11:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., which was also denied because of the same reasoning, the complaint stated. 

“Since May 4, 2019, I have been forced to choose between my religion and my ability to earn a living,” he said in the complaint.

CAIR-NY Litigation Director Ahmed Mohamed said in a statement that the department’s denial of the employee’s accommodation request “is inexcusable and a clear violation of the New York State Human Rights Law.”

“When our client was hired, he was provided the accommodation for three months, and he was able to do his job without any hardship to the DMV,” he said in the statement. “Without explanation, the DMV arbitrarily decided that our client was no longer permitted to have a reasonable accommodation to observe his religious practices.”

A DMV spokesperson told The Hill the agency would not comment on personnel matters and that accommodations are decided case-by-case to avoid “an undue hardship on the office, such as inadequate staffing."

"However, generally speaking, the DMV takes requests for accommodations very seriously and makes every effort to grant them," the spokesperson said in an email.

CAIR filed a complaint last week to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a Muslim woman who was banned from wearing her hijab at work because her supervisor said it made her look “like a terrorist.”

Updated at 3:07 p.m.