The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said “no” to the claims of Abdurahman Haji, a Columbus City (Ohio) Schools teacher, that his district retaliated against him for “religiously motivated comments and actions.”
Haji had a routine of leaving school early each Friday “to lead prayers at his mosque.” He would not sign out before exiting (signing out is common practice at most schools), and if services ran long he would not return to school.
But the bigger problem is what he said at his mosque one day back in 2007, which was recorded on video.
In 2007, Haji gave a lecture at his mosque in which he identified himself as a school employee and expressed “concern that the school was exposing Muslim students to the polytheistic belief system of Greek mythology.” The video was uploaded to YouTube, and school officials learned of it from a student who told them Haji was “saying bad things about the school.”
Haji also complained to parents because female Somali students were not covering and were filmed dancing, and because he had observed a teacher (presumably male, although the opinion does not say) hugging a female Somali student “in a manner that he deemed inappropriate for a Muslim girl.” Haji was suspended for a day for insubordination.
Around this time, school officials began to complain that Haji’s early departures were interfering with his job. Haji was told he could no longer leave early without obtaining prior permission. He ignored this requirement and was fired.
Haji filed a wrongful discharge suit claiming violations of his First Amendment rights (protected by Section 1983 of Title 42), Title VII, and Ohio state law. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the school and dismissed Haji’s claims. He appealed.
The Circuit Court said the school district indeed had a basis to fire Haji for his checking out of school early and not signing out, even if it had not enforced its (attendance) policy before.
Haji’s religious bias claim was rejected “because he could not show that non-Muslim critics of the school were treated more favorably than he.”