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US school in trouble for denying Haj leave to teacher

Wednesday December 15, 2010 08:40:32 AM, News Desk

Malegaon: The US federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district on Monday for continually refusing permission to a Muslim middle schoolteacher to take unpaid leave so she could perform Haj, reports Arab News correspondent from Washington DC.

The federal government says the school violated the teacher’s civil rights and has brought the case on behalf of Safoorah Khan, claiming that it is a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

According to the Arab News, the government asked the court to order the school district to adopt policies that reasonably accommodate its employees’ religious practices and beliefs, and to reinstate Khan with back pay and also pay her compensatory damages. It is also seeking additional damages for pain and suffering. Khan started as a middle schoolteacher for Berkeley School District 87 — about 15 miles west of Chicago — in 2007. In 2008, she asked for almost three weeks of unpaid leave to perform Haj.

After the district twice denied her request, Khan wrote to the board, saying that “based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing Haj,” and resigned shortly thereafter. She then filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the lawsuit filed at a federal court in Chicago. The commission found reasonable cause that discrimination had occurred and forwarded the matter to the Justice Department.

The Board of Education said it denied Khan’s request because the purpose of the leave was not related to her professional duties as an employee and was specifically set forth in the professional negotiations agreement between the Board of Education and the teachers’ union, the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit filed by the United States of America claims the Board of Education and the Berkeley School District failed to provide Khan with reasonable accommodations and made her choose between her job and her religious observance.

Nihad Awad, national executive director at the Council of American Islamic Relations, praised the decision and told Arab News: “We appreciate the government’s intervention in the support of reasonable and legally-required workplace accommodations that many take for granted. No worker should be forced to choose between his or her faith and continued employment.”




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