Fired Muslim Tour Guide Files Lawsuit

Posted November 12, 2003 at 6:59pm

An Iranian-born American citizen who claims she was fired from the Capitol Guide Service last year because of her national origin and Muslim faith has taken her case to federal court.

Afssar Pari Delfani worked for the guide service as a tour guide from March 1998 to September 2002, when she was terminated because of her “race, national origin and religion, and also by reprisal,” according to her complaint.

“During my tenure at the [guide service], I was subjected to differential treatment than my white, American-born, non-Muslim coworkers. Beginning in early 2002, I complained to managers and supervisors at [the guide service] about the differential treatment,” Delfani stated in court documents. “In response [the guide service] retaliated against me by unfairly criticizing my performance and unjustifiably disciplining me.”

She filed the case in U.S. District Court in late April, requesting a jury trial and reinstatement to her position with back pay, benefits and unspecified compensatory damages.

Last week Judge Richard Roberts ordered sealed the Capitol Guide Service Board’s motion to dismiss the complaint and subsequent documents. Those filings would have revealed the government’s position on a potentially highly visible case.

Surprisingly, Delfani’s lawyer didn’t oppose the government’s motion to seal the pretrial documents, a judicial decision that is unusual if not unprecedented for a case brought under the Congressional Accountability Act. She is represented by Patricia Cresta-Savage, who declined to comment on the case or the recent order.

The guide service’s motion to seal pretrial documents is also somewhat mysterious, as it cites a section of the Congressional Accountability Act that on its face is seemingly irrelevant to this case.

The CAA gives legislative branch employees the protection of 11 civil rights, fair- employment and anti-discrimination laws that prior to 1995 had not been applicable to Congress. After required counseling and mediation at the Office of Compliance, an independent legislative branch agency created by the CAA, an employee may file a complaint with the OOC or in federal district court.

Senate Chief Counsel for Employment Jean Manning, who represents the Capitol Guide Service Board because its employees receive their salaries through the Senate payroll, asserts in her motion that the guide service “must discuss specific section 1405 proceedings to establish that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.” And as such proceedings are confidential, she wrote, the court must place any discussion of them in briefs under seal.

Section 1405 refers to the portion of the law delineating the hearing process when an employee files a complaint with the Office of Compliance. Those proceedings are confidential, but as such a hearing theoretically should not have taken place because Delfani chose to instead take her case to federal court, that section would appear to be irrelevant.

Manning didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a brief interview, Delfani said she wasn’t aware the judge had sealed the documents, but referred any inquiries to her attorney. All she would say was: “After 9/11 my supervisors became very violent with me.” She did not elaborate.