After a judge dismissed their religious discrimination and retaliation lawsuit against the city in federal court, the three Muslim former Board of Adjustment members filed their case in New Jersey Superior Court.
Aheya Khan, Montaha Deeb, and Alaur Khondokar’s lawsuit presented a series of federal and state discrimination claims. U.S. district judge John Michael Vazquez dismissed all the federal claims in the suit on Apr. 9, 2019, but declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law discrimination claims.
“The Muslim BOA members found themselves singled out because of their association with their religion and ethnicity,” reads the lawsuit filed on Tuesday. Four claims are presented in the lawsuit under New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
The three former members accused two of their colleagues — Geraldine Rayfield and Gerald Thaxton – and the board secretary — Margarita “Maggie” Rodriguez – of prejudice.
Rayfield was accused of wrongly claiming the Muslim board members had conflicts of interest. She had difficulty explaining conflict of interest to members of the City Council during a hearing.
The controversy that led to the federal lawsuit began brewing in mid-2015. Whenever an individual bearing Islamic names such as Mohammed or Ahmed appeared before the board other members would call on the three Muslim to recuse themselves due to unfounded conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit.
Khan lobbied the City Council to hold hearings to address the situation. In Mar. 2016, the City Council held a series of hearings.
The council never completed its inquiry. Instead, the council removed Deeb and Khan in Sept. 2016. Rayfield and Khondokar were not re-appointed in Jul. 2016.