In May, Venable attorneys Stacie Tobin, Geoff Garinther, and Bill King favorably settled a high-profile religious discrimination case in federal court in Maryland. Venable represented Shades & Springs, Inc. (Shades), an entity formed by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (the AMC), a progressive movement within Islam, to establish a retirement community in Harford County, Maryland for elder members of the Ahmadi community. Venable also represented Ajaz A. Khan, a prospective homebuyer in the retirement community. Mr. Khan escaped persecution in Pakistan, where Ahmadis are rejected for not being “true” Muslims, and is an American citizen and the father of a decorated U.S. Marine.
The case focused on a campaign conducted in 2017 and 2018 – well after construction of the retirement community was under way - by local opponents of the project, including two state delegates, who publicly complained of the “terrorists” moving into their community and sought to persuade county officials to stop the project by refusing to issue occupancy and building permits. That campaign included a series of community meetings, letters and phone calls to county officials, hate-filled social media posts, and at least one so-called private conversation between one of the state delegates and the Harford County executive. The campaign succeeded; Harford County officials stopped issuing building permits and use & occupancy permits for homes on the site.
In 2018, Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction compelling the county to issue building and occupancy permits. During the hearing, the county offered a variety of pretextual reasons for its refusal to issue permits, which local experts testified were without precedent and not based on any county code provisions. Following a week of testimony, the Court ordered the county to issue use & occupancy permits for the 14 homes that had been constructed, allowing Mr. Khan and others to move in.
Following an extended period of additional discovery, the parties were scheduled for a two-week jury trial in May on Plaintiffs’ damages claims and other relief. Near the time the case had been scheduled for trial, Plaintiffs settled with the county in exchange for fully greenlighting the retirement community, issuing a press release welcoming the Ahmadi Muslims to Harford County, and paying substantial sums to Venable’s clients and the builder.
Click here to view the full press release from Harford County, Maryland on the settlement, and welcoming members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.