Prayer break request cost me job, says woman suing would-be employer

25th Oct 2019

Elham Asaad Buaras

A woman from northern Virginia, US, is suing a sales and marketing company that she says refused to hire her after she requested two five-minute breaks to pray and mocked her hijab in front of staff.

On September 3, 2018, Shahin Indorewala of Woodbridge was contacted by Nicky Gordo, Human Resources Director at Fast Trak Management, informing her that she was selected for an interview because the ‘hiring director saw qualities in [her] resume which we are looking for.’

The 26-year-old says her job interview was going well until she asked if she could take the prayer breaks in exchange for a shorter lunch break. She says in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Alexandria that the company CEO then mocked her hijab and refused to hire her.

She said she had a good first job interview, and a second job interview was also going well. A manager said workers received a 90-minute lunch break; it was at that point she mentioned her need to pray five times a day and asked whether she could take two five-minute breaks during the day in exchange for taking a shorter lunch break.

According to the lawsuit, CEO Ramses Gavilondo allegedly “threw his arms up in the air and chastised her exclaiming ‘this is a business.’ He then pointed at her hijab and mocked her, saying ‘Religion? I don’t wanna deal with that here. We don’t want those shenanigans here. He took Ms Indorewala’s file, crossed out her information, and refused to hire her.”

“We ask people to keep religion to themselves,” Gavilondo allegedly said. “I don’t see the need for religious preaching in the 21st century.” Indorewala said the encounter left her feeling “shocked” and “humiliated.”

“Am I really being made fun of for my religion in public in what is supposed to be a professional workplace?” she asked. Gavilondo said that he did not hire Indorewala because she “wanted to preach her religion.” He added that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated the situation and found no wrongdoing.

Indorewala denies preaching of any kind. The lawsuit also states that Indorewala filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC on November 28, 2018, and that it notified her of her right to sue in June.

Indorewala said that her interview was immediately terminated. She tried speaking to Gavilondo and was taken aback by the hostile response she received, which she said included making fun of her hijab in front of the office.“Am I really being made fun of for my religion in public? … I was pretty hurt, and pretty embarrassed,” she said.

Zanah Ghalawanji, Indorewala’s lawyers with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that the case represents a clear-cut example of religious discrimination and employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for sincerely held religious beliefs unless doing so would pose an unreasonable burden on the employer. She said that five-minute breaks twice a day in an office setting impose no such burden.”

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