EEOC Sues Mass. Museum for Anti-Muslim Discrimination

October 2, 2002 ( - An Afghan-born former Worcester Art Museum security guard was fired only because he is a Muslim, the Boston Globe reported.

That was the allegation in a federal court discrimination lawsuit filed in Boston by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of Zia Ayub, 30, of Worcester, Massachusetts.

EEOC officials told the Globe it was only the second such suit they had filed as part of a post 9/11 government initiative to protect against anti-Muslim backlash. The EEOC said it had taken double the number of discrimination complaints alleging such a backlash over the last year.

“The EEOC determined that this gentleman was doing nothing that would have given (the museum) reason to fire him,” Jennifer Kaplan, a Washington EEOC spokeswoman, told the Globe.

Museum Had Accomodated Guard’s Religion

According to the Globe story, Ayub fled to the US with his parents and two sisters in 1982 to escape the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and became a US citizen 10 years later.  

The EEOC lawsuit said Ayub had worked at the Worcester museum since 1994 and his supervisors had accommodated his religion by allowing him to work 12-hour shifts, Saturday through Monday.

But after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Ayub was “ostracized” by his co-workers and one of them falsely reported him to authorities as a suspected terrorist, according to the suit.

Ayub was fired on January 3 for allegedly taking too long to complete his security rounds on several occasions, yet no action was taken against at least four other security guards who had taken as long or longer to complete their rounds, according to the suit.

The firing violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars workplace discrimination because of religion or national origin, the EEOC claimed in the suit.

Danielle Kane, manager of communications at the 104-year-old museum, denied Ayub had been discriminated against.

The government is seeking back pay and unspecified damages for Ayub, who told the Globe he is currently unemployed and caring for his elderly parents.

Ayub’s experience “represents an unfortunate example of how reactive anger can give rise to unlawful employment discrimination against innocent individuals,” EEOC chairwoman Cari Dominguez told the Globe, vowing to work with employers “to promote tolerance” and when necessary, to seek “effective relief” for victims of discrimination.

The EEOC said it had filed the first Muslim discrimination suit last week against Alamo Rent-A-Car in Phoenix, Arizona.

In that case, a Somali immigrant was fired last December from her job as a customer service representative, allegedly for wearing a head scarf to work during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.