Three Muslim women who previously worked in Delaware juvenile detention services filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against state officials last week alleging that they were barred from wearing religious head coverings at work.
The women, Tia Mays, Madinah Brown and Shakeya Thomas, claimed in a lawsuit filed Aug. 6 that they were told they could not wear a hijab to their jobs at the New Castle County Detention Center and the Ferris School for adjudicated juveniles.
Supervisors allegedly prohibited them from working at the facilities unless they removed the head coverings, according to the lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The women asked to be transferred and offered to wear head coverings that could be less of a safety risk around potentially violent juveniles detained in the center.
The lawsuit names the state’s Department of Services of Children, Youth and their Families, as well as other officials working within the department. A spokesperson for the department told The Hill that "we are dedicated to maintaining an inclusive environment for all."
The lawsuit states that a supervisor told Thomas that she "had a few days to think about what she wanted to do — keep wearing her hijab or continue to be employed.” She was also allegedly told that if "she ever wanted to work for the State of Delaware in the future, it would be in her best interest to resign.”
Brown claims in the lawsuit that she was reprimanded by superiors and ordered to clock out repeatedly after wearing a hijab to work. She also filed a report with the department’s human resources department, which she claimed took no action.
Brown also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, which included the claim that a supervisor told her “Now you’re looking like a terrorist” in front of other employees.
Mays claims that supervisors said there was a “misunderstanding” and that a policy not allowing her to wear a hijab “should have been mentioned prior to her beginning employment.”
“No one should have to pick between their livelihood and their faith,” CAIR attorney Zanah Ghalawanji said. “By standing up for their rights and fighting back, Tia, Shakeya and Madinah hope that this agency will be prohibited from imposing this terrible predicament on other women in the future.”
The lawsuit, which was also filed by the law firm Jacobs & Crumplar, seeks an injunction prohibiting the department “from discriminating against employees on the basis of religion, sex or race, and to allow accommodation for religious head coverings.” It also seeks payment for economic damages and emotional harm, as well as “punitive damages and legal costs,” CAIR said in a statement.
—Updated at 11:35 p.m.