The city of Wilmington has agreed to revise its dress-code policy at public pools and pay $50,000 to resolve claims that employees had discriminated against Muslim children, who were asked to leave for wearing cotton clothes while swimming last summer.
A Delaware federal judge Thursday approved the settlement, which requires the city to train workers on new regulations that would specifically accommodate clothing worn at the pools for religious reasons. Under the agreement, the city will also pay $20,000 to the Muslim academy that filed the suit in August, as well as nearly $4,300 to the families of seven children named as plaintiffs in the case.
The city did not admit any wrongdoing as a part of the settlement, but said Wednesday it regrets “that unclear swimwear policies and the lack of specific training on such policies fueled a misunderstanding which left the plaintiffs feeling excluded from a city pool.”
“The settlement ensures meaningful religious accommodations to those who use the city’s pools and, importantly, is an efficient resolution of the plaintiffs’ claims thus avoiding unnecessary and more costly litigation,” the city said in a statement.
Darul Amaanah Academy in August accused municipal employees at the Foster M. Brown Community Pool of “ongoing discrimination” and faulted Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and the city’s parks and recreation director for enforcing a policy that allegedly singled out Muslim students for dressing according to their religious beliefs.
According to the complaint, seven children between the ages of 5 and 12 were harassed throughout the summer swimming season at the pool, which is located just 50 yards from the academy’s summer camp. The filing detailed seven instances in which the pool’s manager, Glenda Pinkett, and members of the staff confronted the children and academy principal Tahsiyn Ismaa’eel over what the children were wearing.
It wasn’t until after the second incident on June 28 that Ismaa’eel said she was informed that Pinkett and Kevin F. Kelley, the city’s parks and recreation director, were enforcing a city policy prohibiting cotton clothes because the fabric can clog pool filtration systems.
Purzycki initially defended the “no cotton” policy in a July 14 statement, which cited formal regulations requiring swimmers to wear “proper swimming attire.” However, Purzycki backtracked later that day and issued an apology saying the city had used poor judgment in handling the situation.
The sides had been engaged in negotiations since late August, according to court documents, and in October agreed to work in good faith toward a final agreement.
The proposed new rules still require pool-goers to wear “appropriate swimming attire,” but clarifies that the city will “accommodate patrons who, for religious or financial reasons, are unable to wear a swimsuit which fully meets” that description. While the clothing would have to be “lightweight,” the regulations do not forbid swimmers from wearing cotton clothing.
Muslim Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group that represented the families, said the settlement would help put an end to harassment and discrimination at city pools.
“Everybody—especially young children—should be allowed to use the pool without fearing that they will be discriminated against because of what they believe or the way they look,” Juvaria Khan, senior staff attorney at the organization, said in a statement.
The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, was captioned Darul Amaanah Academy v. City of Wilmington.