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Muslim woman says in lawsuit that Falls Church company wouldn’t hire her because she wanted to pray at work

Lawyer Gadeir Abbas, right, listens Wednesday as his client Shahin Indorewala describes the incident that prompted her to file a religious discrimination suit against Fast Trak. (Matthew Barakat/AP)

Shahin Indorewala had a job working with children with autism, but she wanted to gain more experience in marketing. So she applied to Fast Trak Management, a small Falls Church company that bills itself as “the number 1 marketing firm in the Northern Virginia Area.”

Now, Indorewala is suing the company, claiming that she was discriminated against because of her religion when she asked to use break time to pray.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Indorewala claimed she was “humiliated” by Fast Trak’s chief executive mocking her Muslim beliefs.

The chief executive, Ramses Gavilondo, disputes her version of events, saying Indorewala decided she did not want the job.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which brought the lawsuit on Indorewala’s behalf, held a brief news conference outside Fast Trak’s office on Wednesday, where CAIR labeled Fast Trak “a company that disregarded federal law and chose not to hire her because of her faith.”

In a video of the news conference, Indorewala said that her first interview went well, and she was asked to return for a second interview. At that interview, Indorewala said, an assistant manager at Fast Trak told her that the company offers a long lunch break. Indorewala asked if she could take a shorter lunch break, so she could take two five-minute breaks during the workday to pray.

“She promptly ended the interview. She said, ‘That’s not going to work. We have fixed hours here,’ ” Indorewala said.

According to the lawsuit, the assistant manager then allegedly walked with Indorewala to Gavilondo and said that the job’s hours wouldn’t work for Indorewala. Indorewala said she then explained to Gavilondo that she prays five times a day. Indorewala says that at that point, Gavilondo pointed to her headscarf and made mocking comments about religion.

“Am I really being made fun of for my religion in public in what’s supposed to be a professional workplace? … Clearly I was being discriminated against because of my religion,” Indorewala said at the news conference. “That was it. I just kind of quietly left the office. I didn’t want to create a scene or anything, but I was pretty hurt and pretty embarrassed.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Gavilondo initially ended the call abruptly. In a second call, he said that he didn’t reject Indorewala’s application. Instead, he said, she was the one who decided she did not want the job.

“Someone came for an interview. They didn’t want to work here. … It’s like me going to a store to buy Kit Kats, and then I don’t want to eat the Kit Kats,” he said.

He said he recalled that Indorewala brought up her Muslim faith, but he did not specifically recall her request for five-minute prayer breaks during the day. And he said he had not made fun of her hijab: “I’m not a fashion expert. People can wear whatever they want.”