Muslim couple files $5M suit over Empire State Building ouster

A view of the Empire State Building from

A view of the Empire State Building from Queens Boulevard. (Credit: Steven Sunshine, 2013)

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A Farmingville couple has filed a $5 million discrimination lawsuit against the owners of the Empire State Building, claiming they were forcibly removed for saying Muslim prayers.

Fahad and Amina Tirmizi say they were on a family outing with their two young children last July 2 when they were "assaulted, battered and forcibly removed" at about 11 p.m. from the skyscraper's 86th-floor observation deck, according to the lawsuit.

The couple, dressed in traditional Muslim garb, went to silently kneel in an isolated area of the observation deck and recite the evening prayer required of Muslims, the suit states.

Amina Tirmizi, 30, prayed briefly without incident, but when her husband began to pray, two guards interrupted the couple. One "menacingly poked" Fahad Tirmizi "with his hands and feet several times in various parts of his body," according to the suit.

The guard told Fahad Tirmizi, 32, that he was not allowed to pray while at the observatory and "forcibly" escorted the family to the ground floor exit of the building, the suit states. The couple was "shamed, humiliated and embarrassed in front of each other, their children, and the general public."

A spokeswoman for Empire State Realty Trust, which owns the iconic tower, denied the allegations.

"The claims are totally without merit and we will respond to them in court," the spokeswoman, Brandy Bergman, said Thursday.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, also names a security firm and two unidentified security guards as defendants. The couple contends their First and 14th Amendment rights to religious freedom and equal protection under the law were violated.

In a statement, Fahad Tirmizi said that earlier that day at the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, "I needed to pray the afternoon prayer and wanted to make sure I'm not in the way, so I confirmed with a police officer who was standing right there to make sure it was a good spot. The officer responded 'Go for it, it's not illegal to pray.' "

Later that day, "We went to the Empire State Building observatory," he said. "We weren't doing anything wrong; we just wanted to enjoy the view like everyone else."

"This type of discrimination is shameful," said Phillip Hines, a Brooklyn attorney representing the family.

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