A Muslim woman has won her fight against a west suburban school district after being denied unpaid leave to go on a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday announced it settled Safoorah Khan’s religious discrimination lawsuit against the Berkeley School District, forcing the district to pay $75,000 in lost back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees. The district also will have to develop a policy accommodating religions consistent with the Civil Rights Acts to ensure something similar will not happen again.
Khan, a teacher at MacArthur Middle School, requested an unpaid leave of absence in December 2008 to perform hajj – a pilgrimage required by Islam – but was told she had to choose between her job and her religious beliefs. She resigned.
“I’m glad that we settled and I hope this does set a precedent,” Khan said. “I hope they realize that hajj means a lot to Muslims and there will be more and more people taking the trip. I hope this helps people and their employers to accommodate Muslims and their requests.”
According to the settlement, the district must also provide mandatory training on religious accommodations to all board of education members and school supervisors.
Khan, now 30, says she went to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the year she resigned. “It’s required once in our lifetime at the earliest opportunity you can get,” she said.
See also Huffington Post, 14 October 2011