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$120,000 Settlement for Minnesota Woman Forced to Remove Hijab for Booking

A $120,000 settlement was reached on November 5, 2019 in a lawsuit alleging officials at Minnesota’s Ramsey County Jail applied discriminatory treatment to a Muslim woman. The settlement with the county also provides for a change in policies related to Muslim women’s use of head coverings.

Aida Shyef Al-Kadi turned herself in on an outstanding warrant for missing a traffic court hearing. Her August 12, 2013 arrest resulted in a brief booking into the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center.

When arrested, Al-Kadi was wearing a hijab, which covered her hair, ears and neck, and a long dress. Her attire was in holding with her sincere religious belief in “promoting decency and modesty in interactions between members of the opposite sex.”

Hennepin County officials treated Al-Kadi “with respect and dignity when she removed her hijab and was not forced to do so in front of any male officers or detainees.” The next day, she was transported to the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center (RCADC).

Immediately upon entry, she was singled out from other detainees. A guard pat searched Al-Kadi and requested that she take off her “burka,” which is culturally and physically different from the hijab and abaya Al-Kadi was wearing. When Al-Kadi balked at removing her religious attire in front of male guards, she was placed in a holding room while other detainees were allowed to remain in the open booking room.

Al-Kadi was ultimately forced to remove her attire in front of male guards and was subjected to a booking photo. The photo was subsequently posted on mugshots.com, which charges a fee to remove booking photos.

Because she could not post the $50 bond, Al-Kadi remained in jail and was not allowed to wear her hijab until the court resolved the charges on August 15, 2013.

Seven months after her release, RCADC changed its policy and approved a hijab to females while in custody. Al-Kadi sued, alleging she suffered religious discrimination.

On June 12, 2019, the court denied in part the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Negotiations ensued, resulting in the November 2019 settlement. In addition to the $120,000 cash payment, the settlement requires RCADC to change its policies to allow prisoners to wear religious head coverings and allow females to reposition their head coverings to reveal the hairline but cover their ears during the booking process.

Al-Kadi was represented by attorneys Caitlinrose H. Fisher and Virginia R. McCalmont. See: Al-Kadi v. Ramsey County, U.S.D.C. (D. Minn.), Case No. 0:16-cv-02642 

Related legal case

Al-Kadi v. Ramsey County