NEWARK (CN) - A New Jersey Transit worker claims the company fired him illegally when it learned he had burned pages of the Koran in public to protest the proposed Islamic community center in Manhattan. Derek Fenton says he burned 3 pages of the Koran because he believes the plan for the Islamic center is "insensitive and inflammatory."
Fenton claims his firing was unconstitutional.
In his federal complaint, Fenton says he burned 3 pages of the book on Sept. 11 this year, at the site of the proposed Islamic center.
He says he was off duty at the protest and was not dressed in a manner to identify him as a New Jersey Transit worker.
"There, on the sidewalk outside the center site, Fenton tore pages from a copy of the Koran and burned them in public," the complaint states.
"Fenton undertook this action as a protest against the location of the proposed Islamic Center. He believed then, and still believes, that locating the center so close to Ground Zero is insensitive and inflammatory, and he concluded that it would be effective and appropriate to do something insensitive and inflammatory as a protest.
"After approximately two minutes at the site, Fenton was voluntarily ushered from the area by police. He was not arrested.
"A news article about Fenton's protest appeared in a local newspaper, accompanied by Fenton's picture but not his name. Employees of New Jersey Transit who saw the picture identified Fenton and complained to NJT management about Fenton's actions.
"On Sept. 13, 2010, NJT fired Fenton from his position as assistant consist coordinator, and refused to permit him to re-assume his prior, union-protected position as Yardmaster. NJT offered no justification for the firing other than to say it violated NJT's' code of ethics.'
"Fenton's firing was thus a direct result of his protected expressive activity. NJT cannot offer any legitimate justification for it. The firing therefore violated Fenton's constitutional rights."
Fenton seeks compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement, and expungement of the incident and its aftermath from his personnel files. He also wants New Jersey Transit ordered to "cease any harassment of, or retaliation, against" him.
His lead counsel is Frank Corrado, with Barry, Corrado, Grassi & Gibson, of Wildwood, N.J.
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