Berkeley schools settle religious pilgrim’s bias suit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Berkeley School District 87 in Chi­­cago’s western suburbs has settled a controversial religious discrimination complaint filed by a Muslim teacher who sought unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Safoorah Khan was teaching at McArthur Middle School in 2008 when she requested 19 days of unpaid leave so she could make the Hajj to Mecca. Islam requires the faithful to make the Hajj at least once during their lifetimes. Khan wanted to make her pilgrimage while she was still young and healthy enough to fully enjoy the trip.

The district refused her request, but she went anyway. The school district fired her.

She filed an EEOC complaint alleging that the district illegally failed to engage in an interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation for her beliefs.

Her complaint noted that the district allowed tenured teachers to take leave for similar events, but not nontenured teachers. That meant, she argued, that a teacher taking leave could not possibly constitute an un­­due burden, since tenured teachers were permitted to do so.

The EEOC referred the case to the Department of Justice as the first in a pilot project to foster greater coordination between the two agencies. Critics blasted the move as an example of the Obama administration pandering to Muslims and picking on a small school district with limited funds in the process.

Under the settlement, the school district will pay Khan $75,000. The district also agreed to train administrative staff about religious accommodation.

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