Monday, October 6, 2008
Court of Appeal Rejects Muslim Teacher’s Bias Claim Against LAUSD
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, who claims she was discriminated against because she is of Iranian origin and is a Muslim, lacks a viable claim under the Fair Employment and Housing Act because she suffered no adverse employment action, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Three Thursday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Irving Feffer’s grant of summary judgment to the district. Feffer has retired since ruling in the case.
In opposition to the district’s summary judgment motion, Jalali declared that she had been a teacher in the district—in special education—since 1998; that she is a naturalized citizen; and that she was the only Muslim and the only Iranian teacher at the Seventh Street Elementary School while she worked there, which was from 1998 to 2006.
Jalali claimed that the principal and assistant principal discriminated against her by denying her the assignment she requested for the 2005-2006 school year, a pre-school class whose students were of mixed ages, rather than the K-2 mild/moderate disabilities class she had taught the previous year; by not providing her with proper textbooks; by not providing her with a teaching assistant after the assistant originally assigned to her suffered a work-related injury; by failing to assign a special assistant needed by one of her students; by not permitting her to attend a training seminar; by not allowing her to participate in a program that allows teachers to have their student loans forgiven; and by eliminating a class she was teaching and denying her the opportunity to teach a class of autistic children, thereby necessitating her transfer to another school.
She also contended that school officials failed to investigate a rumor that she was a lesbian and made negative comments about her nationality and religion, including calling her an “Arab.”
The district responded by filing a declaration by the assistant principal, as well as excerpts of the plaintiff’s deposition. It contended that it could not assign her to the pre-school class because she lacked the proper credential, and that her reassignment was necessary because the class she was teaching, a “special day class” for children as high as the fifth grade level, lacked the minimum of eight eligible students and had to be discontinued.
Justice Walter Croskey, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the trial judge that none of the actions allegedly taken against the plaintiff constituted adverse employment actions as a matter of law.
The denial of a particular class assignment sought by a teacher, the justice explained, is not an adverse employment action unless it results in substantial detriment, such as loss of pay or benefits or a finding of unsatisfactory performance. Jalali presented no evidence that she suffered such detriment, Croskey said.
With respect to other problems she experienced, such as a lack of textbooks or of a teaching assistant, there was no adverse employment action because there was no substantial impairment of her ability to teach. The evidence, Croskey said, was that she had some books and made copies of needed pages to make up for the shortage, and that she was able to get by without an assistant when she had to.
The justice went on to say that Jalali’s inability to get into the loan forgiveness program, which was based on a concern that she might not qualify because she had taken a brief leave of absence and was thus not a fulltime teacher within the meaning of the program requirements, is not considered employment-related because participation was not a job benefit under FEHA.
Nor, Croskey concluded, was Jalali the victim of a pattern of harassment that would be grounds for a FEHA claim.
Citing the assistant principal’s deposition, Croskey explained that the lesbian rumor came up at a dinner party, and was squelched when the assistant principal told the person making the statement that it was not true and was not to be repeated. Officials followed up, the jurist noted, by reminding the staff through the school bulletin that gossip and rumors were considered inappropriate, bullying conduct by the district, and Jalali admitted in her deposition that she had asked 15 or 16 teachers about the rumor and all said they had not heard it.
There was, Croskey added, no evidence at all that the plaintiff was subjected to racial or religious harassment.
Attorneys on appeal were Richard J. Foster and Stephen S. Smyth of Cameron, Pearlson & Foster for the plaintiff and Gregory M. Bergman, Michele M. Goldsmith and Mark W. Waterman of Bergman & Dacey, Inc. for the school district.
The case is Jalali v. Los Angeles Unified School District, B204637.
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