A woman of Islamic faith who was hired as a case manager at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare has filed a $1 million lawsuit against her former employer — claiming she was fired after she refused to shake the hand of a male boss, wore a head scarf on the job and asked for time to pray during the work day.
Sharmin Rahman’s lawsuit states that after starting her job on Dec. 1, 2014, she met a senior director, Royce Bowline. When Bowline tried to shake Rahman’s hand, Rahman declined by explaining that her faith prohibited her from shaking the hands of men, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Afterward, a female employee questioned her about it, allegedly saying “I was told that you did not shake Royce’s hand. Did you know that he is our boss?”
The suit states that Rahman responded “Yes, but that does not change things. I can’t shake his hand.”
A spokesperson for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the lawsuit.
The non-profit employs 900 in the Portland area and greater Willamette Valley. It offers assistance to about 15,000 people each year who are homeless or have problems with addictions or mental health.
According to the suit, Rahman was born in Bangladesh and her ethnic background is South Asian. She speaks with an accent, but started learning British English when she was in kindergarten. The suit states that she has a master’s degree in social work.
She was fired on April 14, 2015 — and the reason listed was “Inability or Not Qualified,” the suit states. Rahman was given no warnings about her performance and had not been disciplined before her firing, according to the suit.
Among allegedly discriminatory episodes in her 4 1/2 months on the job, according to her lawsuit:
–Rahman prayed up to three times during the work day in her locked office, with a sign hanging on the door that read “Do not disturb.” The suit states that although Rahman explained her need to pray, an employee who Rahman supervised interrupted her four times by knocking on her office door and then unlocking the door and entering the office.
–At least twice, Rahman’s supervisor asked her about whether the head and neck scarves she wore posed a safety problem because a client could pull on the scarf. Rahman responded by saying no one had touched her scarves before.
–Rahman’s supervisor offended her several times by watching her while she ate traditional foods from Bangladesh for lunch, according to the suit. The supervisor “derisively said ‘what are you eating,'” the suit states.
–Although Rahman wasn’t told her accent was a problem when she was hired, Rahman’s supervisor and another employee “parroted” the way she spoke English — prompting her to cry, the suit states. One of them expressed surprise she went to Portland State University and told her she should go back to school to learn English, according to the suit.
–Rahman’s supervisor and another employee told her that she wasn’t able to keep up to date with technology because of her age, although the lawsuit doesn’t state Rahman’s age. The suit says the pair “mocked (Rahman) because she typed with her index finger.”
–The suit states that Rahman’s supervisor would smoke during “walk-and-talk” meetings, despite Rahman asking her not to and requesting reasonable accommodation for her asthma.
Rahman is claiming not only religious discrimination, but discrimination based on her ethnicity, national origin and disability of asthma.
The suit seeks up to $500,000 in non-economic for humiliation, anxiety and distress. The suit seeks $500,000 for economic damages that include past and future lost wages and benefits.
Rahman also is seeking her job back.
Portland attorneys Daniel Snyder, Carl Post and John Burgess are representing Rahman.
— Aimee Green
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