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Muslim woman, school district settle discrimination case

A school district in western Cook County has come to a settlement with a former teacher in a case about religious discrimination. Berkeley School District 87 will pay Safoorah Khan $75,000 and will create a program for employees to undergo training on how to comply with federal laws regarding religious accommodations.

Khan was a math lab teacher at McArthur Middle School when she applied for three weeks of unpaid leave in 2008 to perform hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Able-bodied and financially capable Muslims are required to perform hajj at least once in their lives, as a religious duty. 

When the Berkeley school board denied her leave, Khan filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Commission tried, but failed, to mediate the case, so it called in the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the settlement, the DOJ will work with the district to create the training program, and will monitor the district’s compliance with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for a period of three years. 

“I don’t believe that the board of education acted with any kind of malice, or with any kind of anti-Muslim hostility,” said Kamran Memon, Khan’s attorney. “I think they just made a mistake based on their lack of familiarity with their religious accommodation obligations under the civil rights laws and a lack of familiarity with the religious significance of the Hajj.

The school district could not be reached for comment.

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