A sales and marketing company based in Falls Church is the subject of a new religious discrimination lawsuit filed in Alexandria by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a self-described civil rights organization dedicated to helping American Muslims.
CAIR Legal Defense Fund attorneys filed the complaint against Fast Trak Management Inc. in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Sept. 24 on behalf of plaintiff Shahin Indorewala, who alleges that Fast Trak denied her accommodations and refused to hire her for her religious beliefs.
“It’s important that all employers understand that the law makes very clear that they cannot discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion,” CAIR staff attorney Zanah Ghalawanji said. “Fast Trak really needs to understand that their behavior not only was unacceptable, it was illegal.”
A Woodbridge resident and graduate of George Mason University, Indorewala, 26, currently works at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders and has accrued several years of teaching experience as well as “extensive” marketing experience, according to CAIR’s complaint.
Indorewala applied for an entry-level manager position at Fast Trak in the hopes of gaining more experience working in the marketing sector, and she was told by the company’s human resources director that she had been selected for an interview with Fast Trak CEO Ramses Gavilondo on Sept. 3, 2018.
In a press conference held by CAIR outside Fast Trak’s flagship office in Falls Church on Sept. 25, Indorewala told reporters that the initial interview went well, and she was invited for a second interview with the company’s assistant manager the next day.
During that second interview, the assistant manager explained to Indorewala her job duties, her schedule, and the company’s promotions process, telling her that “she would be working on a large contract with Verizon,” according to the complaint.
Indorewala says the job was listed as an assistant or junior managing position when she applied, but the tasks outlined to her by the assistant manager, who is identified in the complaint only as Josie, sounded more in line with the work of a door-to-door salesperson.
After learning that she would be allowed a lunch break of at least 90 minutes, Indorewala asked if she could shorten that break to to be able to take two five-minute breaks during the day to perform prayers in accordance with her faith as a Muslim woman.
According to the complaint, the assistant manager denied Indorewala’s request and “abruptly” ended their meeting, instead bringing her back to the office common room, where Josie told CEO Ramses Gavilondo that the requested “hours don’t work ...”
The complaint alleges that CEO Ramses Gavilondo then responded by pointing at the hijab that Indorewala was wearing, and saying that he did not want to deal with religion, and referred to "those shenanigans,” at Fast Trak.
Gavilondo then allegedly took Indorewala’s file, crossed out her information, and said he would not hire her, according to the complaint.
Indorewala says her initial reaction was to leave out of shock and a desire to avoid creating “a scene,” but she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “just a couple of days” later.
“At that time, I felt very humiliated,” Indorewala said. “…Nobody should be discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs, you know? So, I just kind of wanted to make sure that everybody’s abiding by the law and just being fair to everyone, regardless of what their belief system is.”
The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that prohibit discrimination against job applicants and employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
According to Ghalawanji, the EEOC initially said it was unable to find enough clear evidence of discrimination, questioning whether the interviews with Fast Trak had taken place even though Indorewala provided email records of the meetings.
After Indorewala spoke wioh CAIR, the organization reached out to Fast Trak about the possibility of settling the issue through mediation, but the company never responded, Ghalawanji says.
Indorewala filed a charge of religious discrimination with the EEOC again on Nov. 28, 2018.
This time, the federal agency responded on June 27 by issuing a Notice of Right to Sue, which is required before filing a lawsuit in federal court except in cases related to age or sex-based wage discrimination.
Arguing that Indorewala experienced religious discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CAIR is now requesting relief in the form of damages as well as injunctions ordering Fast Trak to not intimidate, harass, and threaten workers based on their religion and to institute a religious accommodation allowing Muslim workers to take short prayer breaks.
Indorewala is looking for a trial by jury, according to her complaint.
Fast Trak CEO Ramses Gavilondo called the allegations outlined in the lawsuit inaccurate.
Though he did not mention her by name, Gavilondo acknowledged that Indorewala had sought employment with Fast Trak and says the company intended to hire her, but she refused the position because the work hours “did not benefit her schedule.”
“We’d rather not ask people what it is they do in their free time,” Gavilondo said. “In regards to the discrimination, we employ all types of people all over the planet that believe in all different things. We don’t really ever ask anyone what it is they do…We just come to work, and we do the best we can for society.”
Gavilondo says Indorewala has attempted to sue Fast Trak twice before in connection to the incident in question, and both cases were dismissed.
“There are people who do these things. They feel wrong, and they go on these lifelong vendettas, but we didn’t do anything wrong by anybody,” Gavilondo said.
Though Fast Trak is incorporated under Maryland laws, CAIR filed the lawsuit in Virginia because the company’s headquarters and principal place of business is its Falls Church office. Fast Trak also has offices in New Carrolton, Md. and in McLean.
According to Ghalawanji, CAIR has seen an uptick in employment discrimination cases in recent years, with complaints ranging from derogatory language to denials of accommodations for prayer similar to what Indorewala has alleged.
CAIR reported in brief published on Sept. 16 that its chapters have recorded 10,015 anti-Muslim bias incidents from 2014 through this past June.
In a Pew Research Center poll conducted in 2017, 48 percent of Muslim Americans reported that they had experienced at least one incident of discrimination in the preceding 12 months.
“We are definitely receiving a lot more complaints regarding employment discrimination,” Ghalawanji said. “…They start their job, they start to pray, they’re terminated. We have incidents where individuals have been called horrible things because of their religion, referred to as terrorists, referred to as ISIS. Those are things that are completely unacceptable.”
CAIR itself has been accused as having ties to the terrorist-labled group Hamas, according to Kyle Shideler, director of the Counter-Islamist Grid, an initiative of the Middle East Forum (MEF), which identifies and tracks domestic Islamist groups. Shideler says CAIR was identified by the FBI as a front organization created to support Hamas in the media, according to testimony during the 2008 Holy Land Foundation trial. (FBI: CAIR is a Front Group, and Holy Land Foundation tapped Hamas Clerics for Fundraisers, Dallas Morning News, Oct, 2008). CAIR has strenuously denied having any terrorist ties, and has filed a request to have its name removed from the government's list of co-conspirators. CAIR maintains that it is a civil rights group focused on promoting understanding of Islam and combating unfair treatment of American Muslims, according to the Dallas Morning News.