Municipal officials agreed to pay $140,000 to settle three Muslim former Board of Adjustment members’ discrimination lawsuit against the city on Tuesday night.
The three former members — Aheya Khan, Montaha Deeb, and Alaur Khondokar – accused their colleagues of discrimination and religious prejudice. They also accused the city of failing to investigate the alleged discrimination claims.
Khan is getting $40,000. Deeb is getting $60,000. And Khondokar is getting $40,000, according to an official.
“The Muslim BOA members found themselves singled out because of their association with their religion and ethnicity,” reads the lawsuit filed in 2019. They had filed a federal lawsuit, but a judge dismissed all of their claims. However, the judge refused to exercise authority over the state law claims, allowing the three former members to file their case in New Jersey Superior Court.
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.
The City Council approved the settlement on Tuesday night after a closed-door meeting with municipal lawyers.
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