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University Facing Million Dollar Discrimination Lawsuit

Posted by Athena M. Herman | Nov 22, 2016 | 0 Comments

Employees are protected from discrimination based on their race, religion, and other protected classes. When an employer is found to have unlawfully discriminated against an employee, the financial costs may make employers think twice about engaging in similar behavior in the future. The University of Chicago is now facing a lawsuit after a former doctoral candidate says she was discriminated against.

Ameena Azhar was a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago. Azhar is a Muslim and Indian American who was working at the Chicago Center for HIV Elimination (CCHE). After Azhar reported what she saw as disparate treatment among different racial groups, she was fired from her position.

According to her attorney, “business cards were the last straw for her.” Azhar complained to supervisors at CCHE that white students had received business cards and she had not. She complained to Dr. John Schneider, Director of CCHE. Azhar says that after she complained, she was suspended for four months. However, within a couple of weeks, Azhar was told that because she was a student-employee, she was not eligible to be suspended, and instead she was fired.

Azhar alleged the center had engaged in discriminatory activity before the business card incident. She says the staff were segregated based on race, white employees were compensated at different rates than non-white employees, and white employees were given more flexible work schedules.

Employees are protected from discrimination by both state and federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. Illinois state laws also protect employees from unlawful discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act. These laws prohibit discrimination against protected employees in hiring, firing, compensation, and other benefits.

Azhar may also be able to make a retaliation claim for the University's handling of her discrimination complaint. Retaliation includes demotion, harassment, or firing an individual for filing a complaint of discrimination. Firing an employee for reporting racial discrimination may constitute an illegal form of retaliation.

According to Azhar's complaint, two of the members of her dissertation committee resigned their positions after she complained of discrimination. She says she was told she should not have complained about discrimination if she wanted to complete her studies. She says she was also denied compensation for work she'd done on a health study.

Azhar says she was forced to stop working on a number of reports and publications, and defamatory statements were made about Azhar to other CCHE members and academic co-workers at other universities. another researcher allegedly refused to continue working with Azhar, telling her, “I don't want to work with you because of how unprofessional you are with other staff members.”

If you suspect that you are under compensated, have been denied a raise or passed over for a promotion because of racial discrimination, you should speak with an experienced attorney who understands employment discrimination law. Our attorneys have successfully handled employment discrimination cases for our clients in Peoria and throughout the state of Illinois. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting our clients the justice they deserve and equal treatment under the law.

About the Author

Athena M. Herman

Athena M. Herman practices in the areas of employment discrimination law, general employment law, and civil rights law...


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