Muslim ex-employee sues nursing home over hijab restriction

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A Muslim woman is suing a nursing home where she once worked, alleging a supervisor ordered her to remove her hijab, forcing her to choose between her job and her religion.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the federal civil rights complaint in Eastern District Court of Virginia last month on behalf of Keseanda Brooks. She had been working as a certified nursing aide at Hanover Health & Rehabilitation Center for about 10 months before the confrontation happened.

Brooks alleges managers at Hanover Health told her they were concerned about her safety while wearing the hijab, a traditional religious head covering used by Muslim women. In court papers, Brooks said she was warned the garment could be grabbed by residents and told to work without it or face firing.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported on the case late last week.

“This wasn't a fashion statement,” Ahmed Mohamed, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the newspaper. “No employer should force any female to remove any article of clothing, especially religious clothing.”

Medical Facilities of America, which owns Hanover and some 40 other locations in Virginia and North Carolina, disputed Brooks' allegations.

“Hanover Health & Rehabilitation Center is committed to respecting the religious and cultural differences among our employees and residents,” the company said in a statement. “When Ms. Brooks' concerns were brought to our attention, we quickly contacted her and advised that she was welcome to wear her hijab in the workplace. It was our understanding that she would continue to work at our facility.”

The Times-Dispatch reports Brooks initially took her concerns to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which dismissed her claim and told her about her right to sue.

Brooks, now wearing her hijab while working as a CNA at another facility, is seeking back pay, punitive damages and legal fees.