In 2020, CAIR-CA attorneys responded to employment discrimination and harassment complaints addressing issues like the failure to hire and/or promote Muslim employees, Islamophobic work environments, supervisory retaliation leading to adverse job consequences, and commonly, a failure to provide religious accommodations to Muslim employees. In engaging with employers and their legal counsel, CAIR-CA attorneys often come across incidents of willful neglect and inaction at workplaces where anti-Muslim animus created toxic work environments further enhanced by supervisory acquiescence and co-worker participation. Equally troubling are instances involving the inability or unwillingness of employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations to Muslim employees, creating an impression that they are unwelcome and invisible.
To address violations of federal and state antidiscrimination laws, CAIR-CA’s civil rights attorneys represent employees and workers by filing complaints with enforcement agencies tasked with remedying discrimination, i.e., the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (“DFEH”). When warranted, CAIR-CA attorneys initiate litigation by filing lawsuits and reaching impactful settlements against private and governmental employers for violations of civil rights statutes such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 196427 and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”),28 where applicable.
In an case evidencing roadblocks Muslim employees face while practicing their faith at work, CAIR-LA’s attorneys were contacted by a Muslim woman who had been working for nearly six months at a Los-Angeles County-based nonprofit. She was hired as an Activity Leader to lead activities and programs for the nonprofit’s stakeholders and enjoyed her work, receiving positive feedback from her supervisors. After she decided to wear a niqab to work, she began to experience increasingly derogatory comments, intended to mock her appearance and religious beliefs. This included a pointed remark by her supervisor, stating that “you are more like an Arabian Knight.” On another occasion, colleagues attempted to pressure the client into attending a workplace Christmas gala despite her polite protestations based on her religious beliefs. Shortly after these distressing encounters, her employment was terminated abruptly, leading to the inference that this adverse action was retaliatory. CAIR-LA attorneys got involved soon after by writing a demand letter to the employer outlining the illegality of the termination and the differential treatment meted out to the client and succeeded in negotiating a favorable monetary settlement agreement for the client.
CAIR-SV/CC’s attorneys assisted of a Muslim woman who worked as a dispatcher and who dealt with pervasive and severe harassment at her workplace at the hands of a new supervisor. Despite 20 years of experience on the job, with nothing but positive performance reviews, her new supervisor repeatedly singled her out and targeted her for disciplinary actions for unsubstantiated reasons. For example, the client was forced to undergo corrective action including retraining for job duties she excelled in, despite being commended for her performance in past reviews. The woman attempted to bring these issues to light by speaking to her union representatives who were initially dismissive of her allegations. Having exhausted all plausible avenues, the client turned to our attorneys for advice and representation to ameliorate this escalation in hostilities.
CAIR-SV/CC sent a demand letter to the employer asserting claims of religious discrimination in the supervisor’s treatment of the client. Our attorneys also worked closely with the client to engage in an interactive process and dialogue with the employer’s human resources department to ensure that future workplace policies were fair and equitable towards religious minorities and people of color. In response, the employer agreed to implement immediate cultural sensitivity trainings and curriculum in their periodic training bulletins particularly geared towards employees of the Muslim faith.
In a similar case, CAIR-LA represented a client who faced regular harassment and subsequent termination at her workplace for being a practicing Muslim who observed hijab. The client was hired by a credit union in Los Angeles as a client representative where she was expected to interact with various members of the credit union. Shortly after being hired, the client observed Eid al-Adha and was inspired to commit herself to wearing the hijab. After the client began to wear her hijab, she was asked by her manager to take her hijab off or leave work as she had not obtained prior authorization to wear the religious head covering. The client informed her supervisor that her decision to wear the hijab was in line with her sincerely held religious beliefs. Despite her explanations that should have placed her employer on notice to provide reasonable accommodations, the client’s supervisor insisted that she needed prior authorization to wear any religious head covering. However, the client had not been provided with any information or policy by her employer regarding prior approval for religious headwear. Embarrassed and humiliated by this discriminatory treatment, the client felt that she was being pressured to choose between her religion and employment.
The client briefly left her work and opted to return to work without her hijab owing to economic necessity. In the meantime, the employer made no efforts to accommodate the client’s religious practices. Nevertheless, the client was terminated from her employment only a few days after she first wore her hijab. CAIR-LA attorneys issued a demand letter to the employer threatening legal action in response to the retaliatory termination arising from the client’s reasonable accommodation requests. The demand letter reminded the employer that FEHA requires employers to accommodate the religious practices of employees by exploring all reasonable means that allow an employee to observe their sincerely held religious beliefs.29 After months of negotiation, our attorneys and the company came to an agreement on a favorable monetary settlement for the religious discrimination faced by the client.
Finally, as relates to incidents involving religious accommodation requests, CAIR-LA’s attorneys were contacted by a community member who was hired to work for the 2020 Census Bureau. On her first day of work, the client was informed by her supervisor that she was required to remove her hijab to take an employment ID photo. Confused and worried by this requirement, the community member reached out to CAIR-LA where the attorneys advised her of her right under state and federal law to wear a religious head covering for the purposes of identification and during the performance of her job responsibilities. Armed with this information, the client contacted her supervisor to assert her right to wear the hijab at work, forcing him to apologize and concede that he would grant her the religious accommodation. In cases involving religious beliefs, CAIR-CA attorneys and legal staff have been able to obtain accommodations for workers in situations involving the wearing of religious dress, beards, and scheduling changes during Ramadan.