New Jersey Teacher Learns Lesson on State Anti-Discrimination Law

A New Jersey teacher fired for teaching anti-Semitic views filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against his employer, accusing them of having terminated him based on his race, ethnicity and religion. His fifteen-count complaint was dismissed and he appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s decision.

This case was filed by Jason Mostafa Ali, a history teacher at Woodbridge High School who was terminated from his position after the school’s principal learned that he had been teaching his students anti-Semitic lessons and conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks, as well as posting similarly themed articles and links on a school-sponsored website for students to access. The firing was approved by the Board of Education.

Six months later Mr. Ali, who is a non-practicing Muslim of Egyptian descent, filed a claim against the school district, the principal, and the Board of Education under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, familial status, disability, nationality, sex, gender identity or expression.” He accused them of using his teaching of anti-Semitic views as a pretext for discrimination that led to his firing. In addition to the firing itself, he cited examples of references to his name and other Middle Eastern themed comments, as well as comments made by colleagues that characterized him as “unpatriotic,” a “conspiracy theorist” and “anti-Semitic,” identifying these as contributing to a hostile work environment. His suit also asserted that his free speech rights had been violated.

Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, plaintiffs must first establish themselves as members of a protected class and that they were both qualified for their position and that they suffered an adverse employment action. They also need to show that the adverse action might be inferred as having been an intentional act of discrimination. But establishing this baseline does not prove that discrimination was actually the cause. It is simply a starting point, and the plaintiff must then provide proof that the reason given for the firing was a pretext.

In its review, the appeals court noted that Mr. Ali had not presented any evidence to support his claim. They referred to the school district’s assertions that the reasons for the firing were the fact that he had posted anti-Semitic articles on the school’s online channels; that he had expressed no remorse for having done so; and that he had taught Holocaust denial theories to his students. Ali did not deny any of these defenses, nor did he provide evidence that any of them were a pretext. By contrast, the school provided documentation of their rationale for having terminated him.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination provides robust protections for those that are discriminated against on the basis of being a member of a protected class, but that status does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to a judgment if they have behaved or performed in a way that would have resulted in any other employee having faced an adverse employment act. If you believe that you are the victim of discrimination, contact our experienced employment discrimination attorneys and we will thoroughly assess your case and advise you of your rights.

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