IL School District Hit with Federal Discrimination Suit

December 22, 2010 ( – The U.S. Justice Department has filed suit against an Illinois school district alleging that school officials violated federal law by not allowing a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to perform a religious pilgrimage.

A news release said teacher Safoorah Khan had asked for the leave to perform Hajj, but that the request was turned away because the leave was unrelated to her professional duties and not provided for in a contract with her teachers’ union.  Justice Department officials said the handling of the situation by the Berkeley School District, Berkeley, Illinois, represented a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The government alleged that, because Berkeley School District denied her a religious accommodation, the district “compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, and thus forced her discharge.”

In the lawsuit, the United States seeks an order requiring Berkeley School District to adopt a policy designed to reasonably accommodate the religious observances, practices and beliefs of employees and prospective employees. In addition, the United States seeks back pay, compensatory damages and reinstatement for Khan.

“Employees should not have to choose between their religious practice and their livelihood,” said Thomas Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in the news release. “Federal law prohibits employers from treating employees and applicants less favorably because of their religion, and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for the religious beliefs and practices of their employees.”