An Orlando Muslim woman is suing a Florida real-estate company for religious discrimination after being told she could not wear a head scarf and long sleeves at work. Danine Hammond, 27, said the office manager of Chapel Trace Apartments in east Orange County told her she couldn't wear her hijab, a head scarf donned by some Muslim women. Hammond is suing the Miami-based Housing Trust Management Co., which owns the complex, under Florida's Civil Rights Act and requesting that the company compensate her for lost pay and benefits, punitive and compensatory damages, and legal fees, according to the lawsuit. "I feel I have the right to work here in the U.S., and I shouldn't have to compromise my religion," Hammond said during a news conference Wednesday at the entrance to the complex, where she lives. Employees at the complex would not comment. Representatives from the Housing Trust Management Group could not be reached.
The conflict began in April 2004, when Hammond reported for her first day of work as a leasing agent for Chapel Trace, near Goldenrod Road and Valencia College Lane.
"You cannot work here dressed like that," Hammond remembers office manager Olga Sierra telling her. Employees were required to wear a uniform -- a short-sleeved shirt and pants -- and could not wear head scarves, Hammond said she was told. "She assumed that I would take it off," Hammond said. When she refused to remove her head scarf and asked Sierra to check with a supervisor about accommodating her religious customs, Sierra told Hammond to go home, according to the lawsuit. "I was in shock," Hammond said. "I went home bawling my eyes out." No one ever called her, the suit said. Hammond then turned to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil-liberties group. The organization tried contacting the company for months without getting a response, said Ahmed Bedier, director of the organization's Central Florida office. (MORE)