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Circuit Court Sways to Side of Employee For Hostile Environment Claim

Sherin Ahmed, who is Egyptian and Muslim, worked for Astoria Bank for three months. She wore a hijab head covering. She alleged that during her brief employment, a hostile work environment was created based on her national origin and religion.

The hostile work environment was alleged to be created by: hearing comments during her job interview suggesting that people of Arab descent are “terrorists,” hearing jokes about her head covering; being singled out when she was late; having the supervisor speak deliberately slower with hand gestures when speaking to her; being denied her request to work without pay on a major Muslim holiday; hearing her direct supervisor comment negatively about Arabic women wearing a head covering; being reprimanded for leaving early during bad weather even though she had permission; and other negative comments about terrorists.

The federal district court found Ms. Ahmed’s case to be weak although on the edge of being sufficient to meet the standard for a hostile work environment. It dismissed her case. However, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that a jury should consider the facts alleged to determine whether it was sufficient. Claims that Ms. Ahmed was persistently told by the vice president to remove her hijab, that he referred to it as a “rag” and had demeaned her race, ethnicity, and religion in conjunction with the other facts set forth above was sufficient for a jury to consider the question.