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Teacher of Palestinian Origin Allowed to Pursue Title VII Discrimination Case Against New Jersey School

Flag of PalestineThere may be various bases for asserting that you are entitled to pursue a federal employment discrimination case. Certainly, being an African-American or a person of Mexican origin can allow you to assert claims under Title VII. But what if you were subjected to discrimination because you are, say, Armenian…or Kurdish…or Palestinian? A recent case involving a New Jersey high school presented this type of issue for the federal courts here to decide. The case also highlights that a knowledgeable New Jersey national origin discrimination attorney can help you utilize the protections of Title VII to assert your rights to the fullest extent that the law allows.

The employee, Sireen, was a high school history teacher hired by a New Jersey public school district in January 2013 as a student teacher. Shortly thereafter, the school offered Sireen a full-time position.

Allegedly, the problems started soon after she started teaching full-time. Sireen showed her class a video featuring Pakistani activist and Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai. The video had been recommended by another teacher (a white woman) who had showed it to her students. Allegedly, a parent complained to the principal about Sireen, and a supervisor told Sireen that she “could not teach current events in the same manner as her non-Arab, non-Palestinian, and non-Muslim colleagues.”

The teacher also received complaints about a class exercise asking students to compare and contrast Osama bin Laden with John Brown, a famous abolitionist in the U.S. in the 1850s. After that, the principal allegedly told Sireen not to mention Islam or the Middle East in class anymore.

Another supervisor later allegedly told Sireen that she had been a troublemaker from the beginning and that it was because she was Palestinian. The school decided not to renew the teacher’s contract for the 2015-16 school year. She appeared before the school board, and, according to Sireen, one of the board members subsequently contacted the FBI to accuse her of making a terroristic threat she never made.

Eventually, the teacher sued for discrimination in violation of Title VII. She asserted that her employer discriminated against her as a Muslim, as an Arab, and as a Palestinian. The employer asked the court to award it summary judgment and end this case in its favor.

The District Court allowed the teacher to proceed with several aspects of her discrimination action. The law requires that the employee prove that she is a member of a protected group, that she suffered an adverse employment action, and that the adverse action be a result of the employer’s discriminatory motives, and Sireen had evidence that raised a viable claim on all of these points, according to the court.

One of the interesting elements of Sireen’s case is that, according to nj.com, the employer has recently contested one of the teacher’s alleged protected group statuses – her being Palestinian. The employer’s argument presents the issue of what happens when an employee allegedly suffers discrimination based upon membership in a group that is not a recognized independent country. In the past, federal courts in other parts of the country have ruled in favor of employees in these situations. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of a Serbian employee who alleged suffering from discrimination as a Serb, even though Serbia was still part of Yugoslavia at the time. Another court ruled that an employee could go forward with his claim that he suffered from discrimination due to his being Cajun.

This outcome could prove useful for many groups of people, including Palestinians, Kurds, Basques, Armenians, Romany people, and others. The experienced New Jersey national origin discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates have been, for many years, helping workers suffering from discrimination assert their rights under federal and New Jersey laws. If you believe that you have been harmed due to discrimination at work, contact us right away. Our team is available online or at (609) 436-9087. Reach out today to set up a free and confidential consultation with one of our skilled attorneys to find out what we can do to help you.

More blog posts:

Sometimes Even a Supervisor’s Single Racial Slur Can Be Enough in a Discrimination or Harassment Case, Third Circuit Rules, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 21, 2017

New Jersey Supreme Court Upholds $1.4M Emotional Damage Award in Race Discrimination Case, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, March 16, 2017

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