The seminal Title VII provision of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 is landmark legislation safeguarding American workers against workplace discrimination. The statutory enactment created a number of protected classifications, enumerating and later expanding upon categories such as race, color, national origin and religion.
That latter characteristic is prominently underscored in a federal lawsuit recently filed by three Muslim women formerly employed at a Delaware detention facility for juveniles. The plaintiffs’ complaint lodged last month names a state department overseeing the center and various current employees as defendants.
The gist of the lawsuit is this: The women say that their legal right to religion freedom was denied by supervisors who repeatedly insisted they remove their hijab head coverings as a condition of employment. The plaintiffs state that no such limitation was expressed to them before they commenced employment.
The complaint was initially filed as required with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit alleges that, notwithstanding the plaintiffs’ attempts to reach some type of workable compromise with the department, their employer steadfastly refused to budge on its removal policy. As a result, they ultimately had no choice but to choose between their faith and their jobs.
One plaintiff says she was told by a manager that “it would be in her best interest to resign” if she ever wanted to secure future employment with the state. Another plaintiff states that a supervisor lashed out at her, saying, “Now you’re looking like a terrorist.”
The department rejects accusations of discriminatory treatment, responding that it is “dedicated to maintaining an inclusive environment for all.” It states that its removal policy was predicated on high risks posed by head coverings being worn in the presence of violent offenders. An official department statement stresses that certain actions (like restraining a juvenile) “make wearing some religious clothing unsafe.”
The plaintiffs seek a court order authorizing religious head coverings, as well as owed back pay and linked financial damages.