Muslim woman sues Virginia company, says they didn't hire her over prayer breaks

A request for two five-minute prayer breaks allegedly ended Shahin Indorewala's application, she claims in a discrimination lawsuit.

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By David K. Li

A Muslim woman is suing a northern Virginia company, claiming that it was about to hire her, but abruptly showed her the door after she asked for prayer breaks during the work day.

Shahin Indorewala, in a federal lawsuit filed in Alexandria, says she applied for a junior management position at Fast Track Management Inc., a marketing company, in September of last year. She was brought back for a second interview by an assistant manager who went as far as explaining benefits and schedules — which include a two-hour daily lunch break.

"I said, 'That's kind of a long lunch break, but is it possible for me to take a shorter lunch break and instead take five minutes throughout the day to pray,' " Indorewala told reporters outside the Fast Track offices in Falls Church on Wednesday.

Lawyer Gadier Abbas listens to his client, Shain Indorewala, speak at a press conference about her religious discrimination lawsuit in Falls Church, Va., on Sept. 25, 2019.Matthew Barakat / AP

Minutes later, Indorewala said she was brought before CEO Ramses Gavilondo.

"He pointed to my head scarf and he was making all sorts of hand movements and becoming very loud," Indorewala said, recalling what she was told by Gavilondo. "He was just like 'Religion, we don't want that here. We don't want these religious shenanigans here.' "

Gavilondo's alleged tirade unfolded in front of other Fast Track employees and job applicants.

"I felt very humiliated, but first I was just shocked ... am I really being made fun of because of my religion in public? I was pretty hurt and pretty embarrassed," Indorewala said.

Gavilondo defended his actions and told NBC Washington that the plaintiff "wanted to preach her religion." He also told the network the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the claim and found no wrongdoing, although an agency spokesman could not confirm that assertion to NBC News on Thursday.

"We ask people to keep religion to themselves," said Gavilondo, head of the Falls Church company. "I don't see the need for religious preaching in the 21st century."

Indorewala said she was not "preaching" at all and would have happily accepted two five-minute breaks in a secluded area of the office. Fast Track is mandated by federal labor law to make reasonable accommodation for an employee's religious practices, her lawyers said.

"Two five-minute prayer breaks don't pose any type of burden on an employer. Those breaks can be taken in a private area without disturbing anyone," Zanah Ghalawanji, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, said. "Fast Track has absolutely no basis for what they did."

There was no dollar figure cited in the lawsuit.

Indorewala, a graduate of George Mason University with a degree in English literature, now works as a counselor for autistic children, according to the civil complaint.