US Justice Department sues Chicago school for discrimination against Muslim teacher

The U.S. government is suing a suburban Chicago school district for refusing to grant a Muslim teacher unpaid leave to go on a Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Attending the annual pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca once in a lifetime is one of the five central tenets of the Islamic faith. Safoorah Khan, a middle school teacher in the Berkeley school district, about 15 miles west of Chicago, applied for an unpaid leave of absence in 2008 to go on the Hajj, but her request was denied.

She ultimately quit her job to attend and later filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a complaint Monday in a Chicago federal court alleging that the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by refusing Khan’s time-off request and failing to accommodate her religious practice.

Khan began teaching math at the district’s McArthur Middle School in 2007. According to court documents, she wrote to the school superintendent in August 2008, asking for an unpaid leave from Dec. 1-19 that year to travel to Mecca on the pilgrimage.

The district denied her request, noting that the “purpose of her leave was not related to her professional duties,” the Justice Department said. The legal challenge filed Monday states that “because Berkeley School District denied her a religious accommodation, the district compelled Ms. Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, and thus forced her discharge.”

The lawsuit aims to prevent school districts from discriminating against teachers on the basis of religion. Khan also wants her job back, along with back pay and other damages for pain and suffering, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

AOL News, 14 December 2010