Madinah Brown

Madinah Brown stands outside the New Castle County Detention Center, where she's been employed since 2012, but is forbidden from wearing her hijab.

Every day at 11 p.m., Madinah Brown said she shows up to work at the New Castle County Detention Center, where she's employed as a youth rehabilitation counselor. 

Immediately upon clocking in, Brown said, since July, she's been told to go home, if she's wearing her Muslim headdress, commonly referred to as a hijab.

"This has been four months without pay from the state of Delaware, this is a big deal that they haven't been allowing me to work," she said. "This has been very hard for me and my family."

Brown, 35, whose worked for the state since 2012, added one of her supervisors even called her a "terrorist." 

"I was coming into the building...and the door needed a key to unlock it, and  I yelled at our admissions desk to open up the door, and he said: 'C'mon now you're sounding like a terrorist,'" she recounted. 

She's filed a lawsuit against the Delaware Department of Services for Children Youth and Families, which runs the detention center where Brown is employed, through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with help from the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). 

"It's clear that Madinah's hijab did not pose any type of burden because she wore hijab throughout her employment without any incident; this is a clear example of religious discrimination, and the state of Delaware has no basis for preventing Madinah from working with her hijab on," said Zanah Ghalawanji, a CAIR staff attorney. 

Ghalawanji said they're seeking lost wages and benefits as well as policy changes and sensitivity training.  

Ghalawanji also noted the first time she applied for the job in 2011, she went to the interview wearing her hijab and was not hired. She submitted a second application a year later, did not wear her hijab to the interview, and was hired, she claims.

"She made the very difficult choice to support her family, and she put aside her religious beliefs--not by her own choice. No one should be forced to choose between supporting their family and abiding by their religious beliefs," said Ghalawanji.

She, again, tried to wear the hijab in 2015.

"They told me I was not allowed," she said.

She wore it for a few days in July as well, she said, without any problem. She said before she began having problems, other women wore different scarves, which have also been forbidden.  

In a statement, the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Families, which runs the detention center where Brown works, touted its diverse workforce and said it makes exceptions to policy on a case-by-case basis, allowing accommodations when possible.

Brown said she's been offered no reasonable accommodations, though she said recently the state began to claim otherwise. 

"They actually recently sent an email that they're saying that they did, but I have plenty of emails that said that they did not offer me [any accommodation]."

But DSCYF Secretary Josette Manning called the situation "complicated."

"We must carefully balance our strong support of religious freedom with the need to keep youth and staff safe," she said. "In some instances, a person's job may require them to do certain actions, such as the physical restraint of a youth, that makes wearing some religious clothing unsafe."

Brown said her headgear is detachable. 

"If you pull at my hijab it's going to come off," she noted. "I've not worn my hijab and was hurt, and if wearing my hijab causes an issue, I've also offered that I sign a liability," she said.

CAIR and Brown also noted lanyards are also considered choking liabilities, and they're worn by all detention center employees.

"I know this is bigger than me," said Brown. "I feel like if I don't do this right now, and if I don't stand up for myself and other Muslims, I feel like this would continue."

Read the full complaint: