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Wilmington Muslim Community Files Lawsuit Against City for Systemic Discrimination in Public Pools

How many times must children be harassed before the city acts meaningfully?

A recording of today’s call is available here.

Washington, DC –  Today, Muslim Advocates and its co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the City of Wilmington, Delaware in response to the City’s systemic failure to take any meaningful action after multiple reported acts of discrimination by municipal staff at the City’s public pools. The lawsuit, which was filed right after the pools closed for the season, was brought on behalf of Darul Amaanah Academy, an Islamic youth enrichment program, and five families that attend the Academy’s summer youth program. The complaint alleges that the City of Wilmington violated both the Delaware and U.S. Constitutions and other laws when its employees working at public pools repeatedly, and without any legitimate justification, harassed children attending the Academy’s summer camp—some as young as preschoolers—simply because of their religion and/or race.  

The participants in the Darul Amaanah Academy, consistent with their religious beliefs, wear t-shirts, leggings, and headscarves when in public places, including public pools.  Darul Amaanah children have swam at Wilmington public pools for years without incident, but this summer, pool staff repeatedly harassed the children because of their attire, even ejecting them from public pools on multiple occasions.  Pool staff and the City have fabricated a purported “no-cotton” policy (which is apparently unwritten), in an attempt to justify their actions. Despite multiple complaints from Academy staff and parents, nearly universal outcry, acknowledgement by the Mayor’s office that the City used “poor judgment” and “should be held accountable,” and a July 19, 2018 cease and desist letter, the City has refused to remedy its discriminatory conduct.

“After a summer full of discrimination and repeated complaints from Darul Amaanah, the City finally acknowledged that its alleged ‘no-cotton’ policy does not exist. Yet the pool season came to a close this weekend, and Mayor Purzycki and the City have failed to offer anything besides empty apologies,” said Juvaria Khan, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “To date, there has been no meaningful investigation, no changing of official policies, and not even a personal apology to these children, their families, or Darul Amaanah.”

“I grew up in Wilmington and these pools are funded by my taxpayer dollars.  I have very fond memories from my childhood about using these pools, when I could cover up and not worry about being taunted or ejected,” said Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel, founding director of the Darul Amaanah Academy summer youth camp. “Sadly for my campers, their memories will be much uglier.  They’ll remember being told that people who look or pray or dress like them are not allowed in. This isn’t right.”

Prior to filing suit, Muslim Advocates and its co-counsel contacted the City’s counsel a final time, simply requesting the opportunity to sit down, discuss these issues and determine how best to prevent this type of discrimination in the future.  Rather than accepting this good-faith invitation, the City’s counsel asserted that the children were never prohibited from swimming because of their desired attire – contradicting the Mayor’s prior admission that the children “were directed to leave a city pool because of the religious-required clothing they were wearing.”  The City’s counsel also stated that “working collaboratively with you, your clients and others” is “currently premature,” and instead requested their lawyers be allowed to interview the parents and children, despite the incidents having already been documented and reported on multiple occasions.

Today’s complaint was filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery by Muslim Advocates along with their co-counsel Cliff C. Gardner, Matthew P. Majarian, Bonnie W. David, Kaitlin E. Maloney, and Haley S. Stern.

The complaint is available online here.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.