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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fired Muslim Teacher Can Amend Bias Claim

(CN) — A Muslim teacher who claims she was fired from a New Jersey school over her faith can amend her lawsuit after a federal judge refused to entirely dismiss the case at the school's request.

Sireen Hashem, a Muslim-American woman of Palestinian descent, sued Hunterdon County, its Board of Education and superintendent, Hunterdon Central Regional High School and its principal and two supervisors in federal court in December 2015.

Hashem, who had taught U.S. history at Hunterdon High in Flemington, N.J., claims that officials at the school instructed her "not to mention Islam in class" and reprimanded her for showing a movie about Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yusufzai, which she claims a white history teacher showed without problems.

Hashem also claimed that Hunterdon High Superintendent Cristina Steffner accused her of not sticking to the curriculum, questioned her about her teaching and how it related to the common core, accused her of discriminating against Jewish students, and scrutinized her about her place of birth, her family, and her personal life.

Her contract was later not renewed by the district, after which she filed a 10-count lawsuit claiming various discrimination, defamation, retaliation and civil rights violations.

Hunterdon High sought to have the case dismissed and was partially successful Thursday. U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson tossed six separate counts against the individual defendants who worked at the school, finding that individual employees and supervisors are not subject to liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963.

The judge also dismissed time-barred claims against Hashem's supervisor Robert Zywicki, in addition to the fired teacher's untimely First and Fourteenth Amendment claims and defamation allegation.

However, Wolfson ruled that despite some of the lawsuit's claims being time-barred, "the vast majority of the alleged discriminatory acts in the amended momplaint occurred within the 300-day statute of limitations period."

She also ruled that most of Hashem's Title VII claims against the school board and discrimination claims against the individual defendants were valid and properly presented.

"Hashem has alleged sufficient facts and circumstances to create an inference of discrimination such that she was disparately treated by defendants based on her race, religion and national origin," Wolfson wrote in the 51-page ruling.

While conspiracy and retaliation counts in the lawsuit were dismissed, the case was kept alive by Wolfson, who granted Hashem leave to file a second amended complaint on three of the lawsuit's claims.

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