Following a rejected equal opportunity complaint and a demotion in rank, a Muslim soldier who has accused her Fort Carson, Colorado, leadership of religious discrimination is contemplating a federal lawsuit, her attorney confirmed to Army Times on Wednesday.
Spc. Cesilia Valdovinos, who was demoted this week following an unrelated Article 15 investigation, will file a complaint alleging violation of her civil rights either in northern Virginia or Denver, according to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
“This is a pattern and practice of anti-Muslim bigotry, prejudice and harassment,” he said.
The 26-year-old culinary specialist’s story first went viral in mid-March, after she filed an EO complaint with her command based on an incident with her command sergeant major at the 704th Transportation Battalion.
The senior noncommissioned officer, believing that Valdovinos was wearing her hair down underneath her hijab ― rather than in a bun, per regulation ― demanded the soldier remove the head covering,
Her hair fell to her shoulders, Valdovinos told Army Times, because she uses the extra fabric in the cap to secure her bun. When she removes it, the bun falls out.
A week later, as the EO investigation was finishing, Command Sgt. Maj. Kerstin Montoya approached the soldier again, demanding that she go to the bathroom and fix her hair.
“I don’t have long, thick hair,” Valdovinos said. “My hair is thin and short, so because she doesn’t see a full bun sticking out of my hijab doesn’t mean I don’t have it in a bun.”
Her command has denied any discrimination.
“The findings of our commander’s inquiry determined the senior non-commissioned officer acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army regulations,” Col. David Zinn, who commands the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said in a statement to Army Times on Wednesday. “We take pride in the diversity of our soldier teams who work together as professionals regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.”
Observant Sikhs and conservative Muslims are officially able to wear religious head coverings and beards, thanks to a directive issued Tuesday that updates the Army's grooming and appearance regulations.
Valdovinos’ demotion stems from another matter, according to her lawyer, though he believes that her newfound notoriety contributed to the punishment.
“There was another issue that was going on with her, where she was accused of something downrange,” Weinstein said. “A quote, ‘inappropriate relationship.' ”
Valdovinos said she had been assigned to take a soldier back to his barracks after wisdom teeth surgery, but soldiers who saw them together suspected more.
“That was supposed to be ― at worst ― a letter of reprimand,” Weinstein said. “But then this story hits and it went viral. We don’t find it a coincidence that, all of the sudden, what was supposed to be a letter of reprimand turned into an Article 15.”
In addition to the federal lawsuit, he added, Valdovinos’ legal team is contemplating an additional complaint with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.