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Syrian-born adjunct instructor loses discrimination suit against Utah College.

A Syrian-born adjunct faculty member has lost a lawsuit accusing Salt Lake Community College of discrimination based on his race, religion and Middle Eastern origin.

Jihad Al-Ali, an adjunct mathematics and computer instructor, found himself dismissed by the college just six days into the 2001 spring semester following a "verbal altercation" with a student.

That incident, combined with multiple student complaints of sexual harassment and "an abnormally high withdrawal rate" of students from his classes led the college to reject Al-Ali's further teaching requests, U.S. District Judge David Sam explained in his decision.

Al-Ali had taught at the college for two years before his dismissal. He applied unsuccessfully to get re-hired until 2003, when he lodged formal civil rights complaints with the college and then the state.

According to Al-Ali's discrimination and wrongful discharge suit, several college employees "treated him differently than they would other white employees," and "it became well established that these employees did not want him to work there any longer."

He sought back pay, compensation for emotional distress and damage to reputation, reinstatement and punitive damages.

The suit asserted that "it cannot be for any other reason but for racial animus, because his performance record while at SLCC has been exemplary."

He also claimed that employees "routinely and regularly" lied to him in an effort to convince him that they were raking his discrimination complaints seriously.

The college disputed Al-Ali's claim that his performance record was "exemplary." In addition to the high withdrawal rate of his students, it cited two allegations of sexual harassment in two years.

The first came in 1999 according to the court decision. Then in June 2001. two female students complained that Al-Ali had harassed them over the phone.

Al-Ali's lawsuit faced several challenges, including the fact that his teaching contracts were on a semester basis, with no guarantees of future employment.

On the civil rights claims, Sam found no direct evidence of discrimination or that other employees were treated differently. "Contrary to Mr. Al-Ali's assertions, SLCC has set forth legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions," the judge wrote.

The other major problem was that he didn't file his complaint until two years after his dismissal, well past the statute of limitations. Sam rejected the excuse that Al-Ali waited so long because he hadn't realized he'd been permanently fired until 2003, when the college asked for his keys.

At the time of dismissal, the department chair allegedly told Al-Ali he "needed some time away" but never explained that lie wouldn't be permitted to teach future courses, Al-Ali claimed, adding that the chair had assured him several times he'd receive a teaching assignment the next semester.

But the chair denied making any such commitment, adding that "neither I, nor the adjunct faculty coordinators at SLCC wanted Mr. Al-Ali teaching classes because of his previous conduct, i.e. harassing students, making religious comments and the altercation that led to his termination."

The chair said he wrote a recommendation letter to help Al-Ali find alternative employment but that the letter wasn't a new contract with the college.

In his decision, Sam noted that Al-Ali applied for unemployment insurance benefits only a few months after termination. "There was simply no basis for him to conclude that Iris employment had not come to an end, for whatever reason, or that somehow he remained employed" by the college.

Assistant Attorney Gen. Richard Bissell, said Al-Ali has filed an appeal. Al-Ali represented himself in the case.


The college disputed the claim that Al-Ali's performance record was exemplary, citing a high withdrawal rate of his students and two allegations of sexual harassment in two years.
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Author:Freedman, Ian; Freedman, Eric
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Apr 23, 2007
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