2018 Civil Rights Report: Key Legal Filings

CAIR litigates against religious discrimination in courts across the country in order to defend and strengthen the civil rights of all Americans. The religious discrimination that CAIR challenges takes many forms, including but not limited to: discriminatory airport screening policies, unconstitutional travel bans that disproportionately affect Muslims, government-led attempts to stigmatize Islam, and hostile workplaces. The legal team’s many lawsuits, brought on behalf of individuals who are targeted by religious discrimination, reflect the unacceptable reality that the equality of Americans who are Muslim in the United States is now facing its greatest challenge ever.

Compiled below are a few of examples of CAIR’s litigation against religious discrimination in all its forms.

The Unconstitutional Muslim Ban

Three days after President Trump signed the first executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., CAIR filed its first lawsuit challenging the unconstitutional Muslim Ban. Over the course of the year, as the administration repeatedly repackaged its unconstitutional Muslim Ban, CAIR’s legal team expanded its challenge, filing an additional lawsuit in Maryland and amicus briefs in courts across the country. CAIR’s legal challenge to the Muslim Ban is comprehensive and multi-dimensional.

Sarsour v. Trump

CAIR filed its first and broadest challenge to the first version of the unconstitutional ban, Muslim Ban 1.0, on January 30, 2017, on behalf of non-citizen Muslim students studying in the United States as well as prominent American Muslim leaders and activists. This suit argues:

  • The history, context and content of the unconstitutional Ban reveal an illegal purpose and effect to disfavor groups solely based on their religious beliefs.
  • The motive is to ban Muslims from certain Muslim-majority countries and to initiate the mass expulsion of American Muslims lawfully residing in the U.S.
  • This message of disfavor and stigma has been broadcast to the general public by the Trump Administration and therefore impacts all Muslims in the U.S.
  • Constitutionally, the Muslim Ban violates:
    • The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states that no religion be singled out for favored or disfavored treatment.
    • The Free Exercise of the First Amendment, because it discriminates on the basis of religion and chills the public or private expression of faith by Muslims in America.
    • The Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fifth Amendment, because it deprives lawfully residing Muslims the due process of the law, and discriminates based on national origin and religious animus.

After the unconstitutional Muslim Ban 1.0 was repackaged as the unconstitutional Muslim Ban 2.0, CAIR maintained its challenge to the Trump Administration’s attempt to exclude more than 100 million Muslims from entering the United States. As of the publication of this report, it is pending before a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Zakzok v. Trump

On September 24, 2017, when the Trump Administration established the unconstitutional Muslim Ban 3.0 via executive action, CAIR and the Brennan Center for Justice filed another lawsuit—this time in Greenbelt, Maryland. The suit was consolidated with other challenges to Muslim Ban 3.0 filed by major civil rights groups. Together, these suits argue:

  • This version of the ban is based on the same religious animus that animated the first two unlawful versions: to keep Muslims out of the United States.
  • Adding other nations to the mix does not change this, but rather is a transparent attempt to add a fig leaf of religious neutrality. The impact is and remains overwhelmingly on Muslims.
  • Muslims Ban 3.0 exerts concrete harms on American Muslim citizens and permanent residents whose family members are barred from traveling to the U.S.
  • Like the earlier versions, Muslim Ban 3.0 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states that no religion be singled out for favored or disfavored treatment.
  • The Ban additionally discriminates on the basis of race, nationality, and country of origin, which is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

On December 5, 2017, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court allowed the full scope of Muslim Ban 3.0 to go into effect despite the ongoing legal challenges against it. The final Supreme Court hearing and subsequent ruling on the merits of the case is pending at the time of this report.

The Unconstitutional Federal Watchlist

The unconstitutional federal watchlist, referred to as the “Terrorist Screening Database,” allows the federal government to impose a variety of burdens on the lives of innocent people who have never been arrested, charged, or convicted of a criminal offense. CAIR is aware from experience and leaked federal government documents that officials disproportionately target Muslims, including families and infants, for inclusion on the list. The determination of who is placed is made through a secret, undisclosed process that “requires neither ‘concrete facts’ nor ‘irrefutable evidence.’” Its exact contours are unknown due to its secretive nature, but consequences for American families and children placed on the list include, but are not limited to:

  • The inability to fly on airplanes, to obtain licenses, or to exercise their Second Amendment right to own a firearm.
  • Intensified screening and surveillance of movement.
  • Suffering the danger and indignity of having their own government communicate to government agencies, airlines, state and local law enforcement, foreign governments, gun sellers, car dealers, financial institutions, and courts that they are a menace. Foreign governments have used this listing as an opportunity to deny individuals entry or to torture them. Financial institutions have frequently ceased the provision of services, from bank account closures to wire transfers.                                       

The watchlist contains two subsets – the Selectee List and the No Fly List. The former necessitates mandatory invasive screening and the latter prohibits persons from boarding commercial flights. It erroneously assumes that there are some American citizens, predominantly from African, Arab, and South Asian backgrounds, who should not be permitted to fly, even though those citizens cannot be legally arrested, detained, or otherwise restricted in their movements or conduct.

Through extrajudicial and secret means, the federal government is trapping innocent Americans into an invisible web of consequences that are imposed indefinitely and without recourse because of the massive unconstitutional federal watchlist, which now includes hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans.

ElHady et al v. Piehota et al,

CAIR’s legal team represents twenty-five American Muslim citizens and lawful permanent residents who are Muslim in this lawsuit challenging the legality of the watchlist. Each of them has been subject to a deprivation of liberty due to their placement on the watchlist. CBP detained one individual in a holding cell for hours when he was returning from Canada following a vacation. Another plaintiff discovered he was on the watchlist when he went to a car dealership to test drive a vehicle and was not permitted to do so until the dealership obtained clearance from the FBI. In this lawsuit, CAIR argues:

  • Placement of individuals on the watchlist is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and lacking a constitutionally adequate legal mechanism.
  • As American citizens who have never been convicted of a crime and are not subject to arrest, the individuals on the watchlist possess the rights to unrestricted movement and freedom from invasive screening.
  • The government has refused to notify individuals whether they are on the list and therefore has denied them the opportunity to challenge their status. This is unconstitutional and denies them due process.

The Virginia Eastern District Court rejected the federal government’s attempt to kick this case out of court based on the theory that the government does not have the unbridled right to maintain a discriminatory and secretive watchlist and fill it with innocent American Muslims, including children. This is the first time that a federal court has advanced a challenge to the Selectee list. As of the publication of this report, the case is pending before a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bosnic v. McCabe et al.

In this lawsuit, CAIR represents Zijad Bosnic, an American citizen who lives in Florida and travels regularly to visit his wife and children, also U.S. citizens, who currently live in Bosnia. In March of 2017, he was denied boarding on a return flight from Sarajevo to his home in Jacksonville, Florida, without explanation.

Bosnic was advised to fill out a complaint and told to visit the U.S. Embassy. At the Embassy, he was interviewed by two FBI agents who interrogated him regarding whether he was a criminal and invoked a common anti-Muslim stereotype to ask if he believed in “terrorism.” They stated they were unsure why he was not allowed to fly but would attempt to assist him.

Three months later Bosnic again attempted to fly home and was again refused boarding. Shortly thereafter he was informed of his placement on the No Fly List. Additionally, his Transportation Worker Identification Credential, a document essential for his livelihood as a truck driver, was revoked. Bosnic has never been arrested, charged, or convicted of any type of terrorism-related offense.

This lawsuit argues:

  • Bosnic was deprived of his protected liberties.
  • Bosnic’s constitutional right to substantive due process was violated because he was never provided notice of the basis for his placement on the watchlist, and was never offered a meaningful opportunity to contest his designation.

Since CAIR became involved in this case, the federal government has allowed Bosnic to take two flights, one from Bosnia to Florida and the other from Florida to Bosnia. The case is ongoing in the Florida Middle District Court.

Employment and the Workplace

Religious discrimination in employment remains one of the top five types of bias incidents recorded by CAIR since 2014. It includes, but is not limited to, cases of employment denial because the applicant wears a headscarf and cases in which the employer refuses reasonable accommodation for prayer.

Federal Complaint against Cargill Meat Solutions

In this critical case, CAIR is representing 138 American Muslims whose request for religious accommodation was handled in a discriminatory manner by plant managers at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan, Colorado. As one of the largest privately-owned companies in the world, Cargill sets a standard for company procedure. Consequently, because of the systematic effect its actions will have on other American Muslim factory workers, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission has made this case a priority.

In 2015, Cargill management banned prayer in its Fort Morgan, Colorado facility and took a series of hostile and unlawful actions. This included:

  • Blocking the doors to the room in which American Muslim employees prayed, thus barring anyone from entering;
  • Interrogating American Muslim employees after bathroom breaks to ensure that the employees had not prayed during their break; and
  • Explicitly stating to American Muslim employees that they could go home and pray or stay and work.

These employees sought assistance from their union, Teamsters Local No. 455, but were met with hostility and refused assistance. Faced with the choice of abandoning their religious practice in order to work, about 150 employees suffered a mass discharge from December 21-23, 2015.

Over a four-month period in 2016, Cargill spent more one million dollars in Colorado taxpayer money to challenge the right of these American Muslim employees to unemployment benefits. The majority of those affected retained CAIR to represent them in their religious accommodation complaint before the EEOC.


The EEOC found reasonable cause in August 2017 that Cargill Meat Solutions and Teamsters Local No. 455 in Colorado violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating and retaliating against American Muslim employees who sought religious accommodations. In every single case, EEOC Hearing Officers found that Cargill had unilaterally and substantially changed the working conditions of the American Muslim employees, and none were at fault for the loss of their employment.

CAIR welcomed this determination and is presently in settlement negotiations with Cargill that are expected to resolve in the Spring of 2018.

Badal et al. v. Ariens Company

CAIR is representing nineteen American Muslims whose right to reasonable accommodation of their daily prayers was terminated by Ariens Company, an agricultural equipment manufacturer, who seems to have followed Cargill in company procedure. Prior to accepting their jobs, these individuals had verified that they would be granted breaks to accommodate their daily prayers. This lined up with existing company policy that allowed all employees short breaks.

After initially providing accommodation, Ariens held a meeting exclusively with their American Muslim employees and revoked permission. The company allowed short breaks but not for religious purposes. Ariens also threatened two plaintiffs with “punishment” if they did not sign a resignation notice form stating that they would resign due to a “conflict with company policy and my faith.”

Ariens management forced their employees to choose between:

  1. Violating their core religious beliefs by not performing their obligatory prayers in order to maintain their employment,
  2. Continuing to adhere to their religious beliefs and performing their obligatory prayers, thereby placing them on track for eventual termination; or
  3. Resigning their employment in order to continue to adhere to their religious beliefs.

In this lawsuit, CAIR argues:

  • Ariens violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It acted in conscious disregard of or reckless indifference to their American Muslim employees and their fundamental right to be free from religious discrimination and/or retaliation.
  • Ariens acted with malice due to pique at the American Muslim workers’ opposition and protestation at the revocation of their religious accommodation request.
  • The individuals so affected have suffered emotional distress, anxiety, humiliation, inconvenience, lost wages and benefits, and other consequential damages.

As of the publication of this report, the complaint is pending with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.