The city of Wilmington, Delaware, has agreed to revise its dress code policy and explicitly allow religious clothing at its aquatic facilities, according to a settlement reached Tuesday.
The civil rights lawsuit, which was initially filed in August 2018, alleged that city employees denied Muslim students from a local youth group, Darul Amaanah, access to the pool because of their dress and subjected them to discriminatory behavior.
Immediately after the incident, members of Darul Amaanah, which was founded by the city’s predominately African-American Muslim community, lodged numerous complaints alleging discriminatory behavior by the city. Members of the center who were represented by Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, also sent a cease and desist letter. When the city “failed to take meaningful action,” the youth center sued.
“Public swimming pools have long been a flashpoint of issues in this country about certain segments of society deciding who belongs and who doesn’t.”
“The reality is that public swimming pools have long been a flashpoint of issues in this country about certain segments of society deciding who belongs and who doesn’t,” Juvaria Khan, a senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates, told HuffPost. “And in our case in particular, our clients are at the intersection of religion, racial issues and class issues. So much have this could have been avoided by just having fairer policies in place and and better training and a better understanding about the diversity that’s within certain communities.”
Darul Amaanah brought students, ranging from 5 to 12 years old, to the Foster Brown Pool every summer for four years as part of the group’s annual summer youth program. During this time, some girls in the program preferred to wear cotton T-shirts and leggings in the pool, while others covered their hair with headscarves when they swam, camp director Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel previously told HuffPost. Ismaa’eel, who is also one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, added that pool management officials never voiced any concerns about dress until one day in June 2018, when the pool manager told camp leaders that cotton clothing was not allowed in the pool and asked them to leave.
There were no rules posted at the facility in regards to the material of swimmer attire, Ismaa’eel said at the time. The new settlement now requires for the new dress code policy to be “prominently displayed” at all city pools, according to the suit.
Mike Purzycki, the mayor of Wilmington, has since apologized in a statement and said city officials at the Foster Brown public pool “used poor judgment” in response to the students’ religious clothing requirements and that the city “should be held accountable for what happened.”
The settlement also mandates for additional training to employees of city-operated aquatic facilities and and to extend the length of the 2019 pool season through Labor Day to make up for the days the Muslim children missed. The plaintiffs are also set to receive a total monetary compensation of $50,000.
“Our clients never set out wanting to sue their city. They were forced into this disposition unfortunately after a summer full of being excluded at the pool and having their complaints repeatedly ignored. All they wanted was to be able to use the pool just like everybody else,” said Khan. “It’s our hope that other places will see this and take steps to make sure that they can avoid it happening in their own towns.”