CAIR-SFBA, LAS-ELC Win Judgment Against Abercrombie & Fitch in Hijab Case: Look-conscious retailer found liable for religious discrimination in firing of Muslim worker

(SAN FRANCISCO, CA, 9/9/13) — The San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA) and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) today announced a legal victory in a lawsuit against clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch over the firing of a Muslim worker who refused to remove her religiously-mandated hijab (headscarf) as a condition for keeping her job.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that Abercrombie and Fitch violated federal and state civil rights laws against workplace discrimination when it fired Hani Khan in 2010 for refusing to remove her hijab. The lawsuit, which was filed by CAIR-SFBA, LAS-ELC and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), sought to vindicate Khan’s rights against religious discrimination in the workplace.

In her 25-page decision, Judge Gonzalez Rogers resoundingly rejected Abercrombie’s “undue burden” defense. The decision stated in part:

“Abercrombie only offers unsubstantiated opinion testimony of its own employees to support its claim of undue hardship. Abercrombie failed to proffer any evidence from those four months showing a decline in sales in the Hillsdale store; customer complaints or confusion; or brand damage linked to Khan’s wearing of a hijab.”

 

“At the heart of this case is the belief that no one should ever have to choose between their religion and work,” said Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR-SFBA. “All Americans have a right to reasonable religious accommodation in the workplace, and for Muslim women this includes the right to wear a hijab to work.”

This court is the second in the Northern District of California to find that Abercrombie cannot demonstrate that it is an undue hardship to accommodate employees who wear hijabs.  Earlier this year, Abercrombie similarly failed to justify its refusal to hire a woman who applied to work at an Abercrombie Kids store in Milpitas.

There is No Threat from Imam Al Bustanj

August 12, 2013

“Ridiculous, these are complaints that do not stand up” explained the spokesman of the Jewish Community in Milan, Daniele Nahum, in response to the threat of lawsuit from Davide Piccardo. Piccardo, the coordinator of the Islamic association of Milan, in a statement, said today that the association would proceed with a defamation and incitement to racial and religious hatred lawsuit. The lawsuit is in response to comments about Imam Al Bustanj, citing him as an extremist who supports the martyrdom of children.

The controversy began with the end of Ramadan a few days ago. The Jewish community explicitly blamed the Municipal government because they participated in a prayer for the end of Ramadan led by Imam Al Bustanj. The note from the Jewish community coordinator explains the community will not be undervalued.

In the end this debate focuses on those phrases that represent the historical opposition between the two faiths on the issues of the state of Israel and the occupation of the Palestinian land. “We do not intend to take lessons from those who support a state that constantly violates international legality and basic human rights; continuing to conduct a brutal military occupation, which is both racist and criminal” Picard wrote.

No-fly-list challenge back in court 2 years later; Va. man still barred from travel

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It’s been 2 ½ years since Gulet Mohamed, then 19, found himself stuck in Kuwait, unable to return to the United States because of his apparent placement on the government’s no-fly list.

 

Mohamed made it back to the U.S. not long after a federal lawsuit was filed on his behalf in January 2011, but the lawsuit challenging his placement on the list remains unresolved.

 

On Friday, Mohamed was back in a northern Virginia courtroom, where his lawsuit has been revived but as a legal matter is no further along than it was in 2011.

 

U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga dismissed Mohamed’s case last year, deciding he did not have jurisdiction to hear it. Earlier this year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit and sent the case back to Trenga.

 

Mohamed’s lawyer, Gadeir Abbas of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the court should now be in a position to rule on the substantive issue of whether the no-fly list is constitutional, and whether those placed on it must be given a fair chance to challenge their inclusion.

 

There has never been any explanation of how Mohamed — a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Somalia — ended up on the list, much less government confirmation of his placement on the list. His travel difficulties began after he traveled to Yemen and Somalia in 2009 to learn Arabic, then to Kuwait where he stayed with an uncle. He said he was questioned by FBI agents who wanted him to become an informant, and when detained by Kuwait he was beaten and tortured.

 

Mohamed’s challenge to the list was among the first in a wave of lawsuits that followed a dramatic expansion of the list that occurred after the failed plot by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas 2009 with a bomb hidden in his underwear.

 

Judge gives prison housing Lindh 30 days to allow Muslims to hold group prayers outside cells

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge on Friday gave the government 30 days to start allowing American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other Muslim inmates to hold group prayers outside their cells in a high-security prison in Indiana.

In a seven-page order, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said the Bureau of Prisons might have misconstrued her ruling seven months ago that granted Lindh’s request to hold group prayers in the Terre Haute federal prison’s Communications Management Unit, so she made her intent clear.

“The warden is to allow group prayer during every Muslim prayer time for which the inmates are not confined to their cells,” she wrote in bold print.

“Put simply, just as inmates are free to assemble, socialize and engage in other group activities in common, recreational areas during times they are released from their cells, so too must they be allowed to engage in group prayer in common, out-of-cell areas,” Magnus-Stinson said.

U.S. troops captured Lindh in Afghanistan in 2001. Lindh, who grew up in California and was raised Catholic, was accused of fighting for the Taliban to help them build a pure Islamic state. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government and carrying explosives for them. He is eligible for release from prison in 2019.

The group prayer lawsuit originally was filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates. The case drew far more attention after Lindh joined it in 2010. The other plaintiffs dropped out as they were released from prison or transferred to other units.

McDonald’s drops halal food from U.S. menu

DETROIT — There have been only two McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. that have offered halal food. Both were in east Dearborn, Mich., which has a sizable population of Arab-American Muslims.

But after a contentious lawsuit that accused the restaurant chain of selling non-halal items advertised as halal, McDonald’s has yanked its Halal Chicken McNuggets and Halal McChicken sandwiches off the menu. The move brings to an end a unique product that made the two McDonald’s restaurants popular with Muslims.

“Those items have been discontinued as a result of our continued efforts to focus on our national core menu,” a spokesman for McDonald’s said Friday.

At one of the two restaurants, the Ford Road location, a sign in Arabic and English on its drive-through menu informs customers that halal items are no longer available. The decision to discontinue the products after a 12-year run drew a mixed reaction in Dearborn: Some were disappointed, while others said it was a good move because McDonald’s had problems before with selling halal food.

The removal of the halal items, which was done last month, comes after a lawsuit filed in 2011 alleging that the fast-food restaurant was selling non-halal chicken it claimed was halal. Halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher, requiring that meat be prepared according to Islamic guidelines, such as reciting a prayer while the animal is cut. In some cases, employees at the Ford Road location were mistakenly giving non-halal products to customers who asked for halal ones.

Civil rights groups sue NYPD over Muslim spying

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department’s widespread spying programs directed at Muslims have undermined free worship by innocent people and should be declared unconstitutional, religious leaders and civil rights advocates said Tuesday after the filing of a federal lawsuit.

“Our mosque should be an open, religious, a spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship,” Hamid Hassan Raza, an imam named as a plaintiff, told a rally outside police headquarters shortly after the suit was filed in federal court in Manhattan.

The suit asks a judge to order the nation’s largest police department to stop its surveillance and destroy any related records. It’s the third significant legal action filed against the NYPD’s Muslim surveillance program since details of the program were revealed in a series of Associated Press reports starting in 2011.

The lawsuit said Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behavior so as not to draw additional police attention. The suit was filed against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly and the deputy commissioner of intelligence, David Cohen.

 

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a phone call and email asking for comment.

New York City’s law department said police intelligence-gathering tactics in Muslim communities is legal and critical to combating terrorism.

The lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to the activities of the NYPD Intelligence Division. A year ago, the California-based civil rights organization Muslim Advocates sued the NYPD over its counterterrorism programs. This year, civil rights lawyers urged a judge to stop the NYPD from routinely observing Muslims in restaurants, bookstores and mosques, saying the practice violates a landmark 1985 court settlement that restricted the kind of surveillance used against war protesters in the 1960s and ’70s.

The lawsuit describes a pattern of NYPD spying directed at Muslims in New York since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Mass. pair sues New York Post over Marathon bombing portrayal

A Massachusetts teenager and his 24-year-old friend filed a defamation lawsuit against the New York Post Wednesday in Boston, accusing the tabloid of falsely portraying them as suspects in the deadly Marathon bombings by plastering their photograph on the front page under the headline, “Bag Men.”

The lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court said the photographs and articles published three days after the bombings made it appear that FBI agents were pursuing Salaheddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaimi, avid runners watching the Marathon. That evening, authorities released photographs of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In the complaint, lawyers for Barhoum, a 16-year-old Revere High School student, and Zaimi, a part-time college student from Malden who also works full time, accused the New York Post of libel, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. They are seeking damages, including unspecified monetary compensation.

“The front page would lead a reasonable reader to believe that plaintiffs had bombs in their bags, that they were involved in causing the Boston Marathon bombing,” according to the court complaint. The lawsuit asserts the newspaper subjected the friends to “scorn, hatred, ridicule, or contempt in the minds of a considerable and respectable segment of the community.”

Anti-Shariah movement changes tactics and gains success

(RNS) When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.
But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted.

Why the change?

 

The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.

 

The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom.

 

“These bills don’t have any real-world effect. Their only purpose is to allow people to vilify Islam,” said Corey Saylor, CAIR’s legislative affairs director, of the more recent bills.

The change in language seems to have helped such bills advance in several states. And while these bills no longer single out Shariah, it is often understood that Shariah is the target, which many legislators make no secret of.

 

The driving force behind these new versions of anti-Shariah laws is “anti-Muslim bigotry plain and simple,” said Daniel Mach of the American Civil Liberties Union, speaking on a panel in Washington Thursday (May 16). To those agitating for such measures, “Islam is the face of the enemy,” he said.

 

To date, Oklahoma is the sixth state — joining Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee — to adopt a law prohibiting courts from using foreign or international law, with some exceptions, in their decisions.

 

This year, at least 36 anti-foreign law bills have been proposed in 15 states, down from 51 bills in 23 states in 2011. While most of this year’s anti-foreign law bills have failed, several others, have advanced:

Gov’t doesn’t fight order letting American Taliban fighter Lindh pray daily with other inmates

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal prison in Indiana on Wednesday was expected to begin allowing American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other Muslim inmates housed in his tightly controlled unit to start holding daily ritual group prayers.

The government had until Tuesday to appeal U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s Jan. 11 ruling allowing the daily group prayers, but it didn’t. Magnus-Stinson found that a prison policy preventing Lindh and the other Muslims in his unit from praying together daily when not locked in their cells violated a 1993 law banning the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest.

She said her ruling didn’t prohibit less restrictive security measures in the Communications Management Unit, which houses terrorists and other inmates the government doesn’t want freely communicating with the outside world.

Ken Falk, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represented Lindh in a lawsuit challenging the prison policy, said Wednesday afternoon he didn’t yet know if the prison had started allowing the prayers. Officials at the prison didn’t return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking that same information.

Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. He was captured by U.S. troops that year, and in 2002 pleaded guilty to supplying services and carrying explosives for the now-defunct Taliban government. He is eligible for release in 2019.

Raised Catholic, the California native was 12 when he saw the movie “Malcolm X” and became interested in Islam. He converted at age 16. Walker told Newsweek after his capture that he had entered Afghanistan to help the Taliban build a “pure Islamic state.”

Lindh joined the prayer lawsuit in 2010, three years after being sent to the prison near the border between Indiana and Illinois. The suit was originally filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit, but it got far more attention when Lindh joined the case. The other plaintiffs later dropped out as they were released or transferred from the prison.

NYPD Muslim Spying Lawsuit Moves Forward and Media is Blamed

NEW YORK — “I’m laughing. I’m laughing on the phone right now,” said Syed Farhaj Hassan. “That’s hysterical.”

That’s how Hassan reacted when he heard that the New York City Police Department blames the press for exposing its Muslim surveillance program — and not its own cops for running it.

Hassan is the lead plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit by the non-profit group Muslim Advocates over the NYPD’s extension of its spying program into New Jersey. The group dropped its latest filing in the case on Friday.

For Hassan, a 36-year-old resident of central New Jersey, the case is far more serious than the NYPD’s legal arguments. It gets to the heart of why he joined the Army months before 9/11 and served his country in the Iraq War.

“I have always been patriotic,” he said. “I have always loved being an American and I knew from a very long time ago that we … were afforded a lot of rights and responsibilities.” But the rights part of that equation was put in jeopardy, he said, when he found out about the NYPD’s extensive post-9/11 program of surveillance of Muslim sites and neighborhoods from Queens to Newark.

In August 2011, the Associated Press began publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of reports on the NYPD’s surveillance practices. The AP revealed the department had sent its officers across state lines to surveil mosques, businesses and even a girls’ school frequented by Muslims. When Hassan learned that the Masjid-e-Ali, a mosque in Somerset, N.J., that he regularly attended, was under the NYPD’s gaze, he stopped going.

In December, the NYPD moved to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it had done nothing wrong. Some legal experts have opined that Hassan and Muslim Advocates face an uphill battle in winning their case. As the NYPD pointed out in its filing, courts have ruled in the past that surveillance by itself, as long as there is no discriminatory intent, is constitutional.

New Jerseyans, including Republican Gov. Chris Christie, were angered to find out that the NYPD had been crossing state lines to conduct its surveillance. So far, no corresponding lawsuit has been filed in New York City against the NYPD for its surveillance activities, but Katon noted a special, long-running legal framework for the NYPD called the Handschu decree complicates making a case in New York.

Hassan says his participation in the lawsuit isn’t motivated by territorial pride — or even solely by his religion.

“This is for everybody, this isn’t just for Muslim Americans. This is for all Americans,” he said. “This is just another way of my personal little bit to defend the Constitution.”