Judge Rejects ‘National Security’ Defense in Muslim’s Bias Suit
Muslim employee forbidden to go to floors of the hotel occupied by Israeli delegation
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/7/12)—The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today welcomed a federal judge’s ruling that rejects a claim by a Washington, D.C., hotel that it had the right to discriminate against a Muslim employee because of a “national security exemption.”
United States District Judge Barbara J. Rothstein ruled yesterday that “the national security exemption does not immunize Defendant from liability as to Plaintiff’s retaliation claim.”
Judge Rothstein’s ruling came in response to a motion filed by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia claiming CAIR’s lawsuit on behalf of the Muslim employee should be rejected by the court because the hotel “was following a mandate from the federal government regarding a matter of national security.”
The hotel’s motion blamed its discriminatory actions on security requirements allegedly imposed by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security Service (DSS).
“We welcome Judge Rothstein’s ruling and are pleased that this case can now move forward to examine the employee’s allegations of retaliation for complaining about the treatment he was subjected to because of his faith and ethnicity,” said CAIR National Legal Counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili.
Al-Khalili said CAIR’s suit states that in December 2010, the employee, an American citizen of Moroccan heritage, was forbidden to go to the 8th or 9th floors of the hotel because an Israeli delegation was staying there.
The Muslim employee was reportedly barred from those floors despite the fact that he had previously undergone an FBI background check and had carried out his duties for other foreign delegations and dignitaries, including a former U.S. president.
According to the suit, when the Muslim employee asked why he was barred from those floors, he was told by a supervisor, “You know how the Israelis are with Arabs and Muslims.” As quoted in CAIR’s lawsuit, another hotel supervisor allegedly stated that “the Israeli delegation does not want to be served by Defendant’s Muslim employees and that Defendant accommodates this preference because it does not want to lose the Israeli delegation as clients.”
The suit also alleges that hotel supervisors believed the Muslim employee “would particularly pose a problem for the Israeli delegation, because if they encountered him, members of the delegation would easily be able to see his name—Mohamed—written on his employee nametag.”
After the Muslim worker’s colleagues learned of the restrictions the hotel had placed on his duties, several of them ridiculed him as a potential terrorist, “poking him in the stomach to feign checking his body for explosives.”
CAIR’s suit also alleges that the hotel retaliated against the employee for complaining about the discriminatory treatment.
The lawsuit seeks cultural competency training for hotel employees, back pay for the Muslim worker, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and an order requiring the hotel to adopt a non-discrimination and retaliation policy and to establish an effective mechanism for receiving and responding to complaints of discrimination and retaliation.
CAIR offers a booklet, called “An Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” to help employers gain a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in the workplace.