Federal Judge Finds French Embassy Discriminated Unlawfully Against Muslim Employee

Ruling Follows Landmark Decision by the D.C. Circuit That French Citizen Working for French Embassy in U.S. Entitled to U.S. Civil Rights Law Protections

D.C. Federal District Judge James E. Boasberg ruled from the bench that the French Embassy discriminated against employee Saima Ashraf-Hassan when it subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her race, South Asian; national origin, Pakistani; religion, Muslim; and pregnancy.

Judge Boasberg found Ashraf-Hassan credible when she testified to being fired because she was pregnant, repeatedly referred to as a “terrorist” or otherwise taunted as responsible for the actions of terrorists, called “[the] Pashtun”—a derogatory term implying an Afghani member of the Taliban—and was terminated yet a second time because of her minority status.

For over nine years, Ashraf-Hassan’s case has been pending in the U.S. judicial process.  Today, she stated: “I feel incredibly vindicated.  After 14 years I finally have justice.  An American court has heard my story (where the French government refused to even acknowledge my case) and concluded that what was done to me was not only wrong and inhumane but illegal.”

The verdict follows a contentious battle before the D.C. Circuit wherein the French government argued it was immune from liability as a foreign sovereign. The D.C. Circuit found the embassy contracted with local employees and, as such, it is responsible for complying with U.S. laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII provides protection against discrimination on the basis of race, class, national origin, disability, religion and other reasons.

Representing Ashraf-Hassan are Katie Atkinson from the Law Offices of Gary M. Gilbert & Associates and Ari Wilkenfeld from Wilkenfeld Herendeen Law in Washington, D.C.  Atkinson stated, “We will continue advocating for Muslim employees mistreated in the workplace.  Everyone in this country has a right to go to work without fear, regardless of religion.” 

Wilkenfeld, a lifetime Washingtonian, stated, “It’s not every day you see an embassy in D.C. held responsible for violating U.S. laws.  I can’t think of a better reaffirmation of our values than to have a U.S. court step up and protect a woman—who as a Pakistani Muslim is also a member of at least three different minority groups—even if she was arguably working on French soil.”