FLEMINGTON, NJ – The charges were explosive and prompted coverage by CNN, Huffington Post and at least one New York City television station. The case is even mentioned on Hunterdon Central High School’s Wikipedia page.
But a federal judge has ruled against the Arab-Muslim woman who filed a five-count lawsuit against Hunterdon Central.
Sitting in U.S. District Court in Trenton, Judge Freda L. Wolfson granted Summary Judgment in favor of the school in the case filed by Sireen Sawalha Hashem, who is of Palestinian descent.
In her 25-page opinion, the Judge wrote that Summary Judgment is appropriate if the evidence shows “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” The opinion means the case is now closed.
The lawsuit, filed near the end of 2015, painted an ugly picture of the school’s culture. It alleged employment discrimination, disparate treatment, retaliation, and violation of the Equal Protection Clause under the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. Hashem claimed she was targeted because of her race, religion, and national origin.
The suit named the District, its school board and her former supervisors: School District Superintendent Christina Steffner, Principal Suzanne Cooley and Supervisor of Social Studies Rebecca Lucas.
Hashem was first hired by HCHS as a student teacher in January 2013. She continued in that role through May 2013, until she was offered and accepted a full-time position as a U.S. History teacher in the Social Studies Department. She began that job in September 2013 and in the 2014-15 school year, she was assigned to teach U.S. History and Global Studies.
Hashem’s employment at the school ended at the end of that school year when her contract was not renewed. The judge noted that during the same period, three other nontenured Social Studies teachers, like Hashem, also did not have their contracts renewed.
“They were all ‘Caucasian, non-Arab, non-Muslim and non-Palestinian,’ the Judge wrote.
Hashem appealed her non-renewal through the school board which upheld the non-renewal, the Judge wrote.
The court ruling details a string of problems that Hashem claims to have had with students, parents and school staff. It notes that an allegation by the school that she had stated school board members “will be sorry if I am fired” resulted in a pair of FBI agents visiting her home. Hashem denied ever making that statement.
The Judge agreed with the school that Hashem “has failed to produce any direct or indirect evidence to establish an inference of discrimination” and that she did not produce “any admissible evidence” which demonstrated any “racial or religious animus.”
The court found no “direct admissible evidence” to support the claim of “discriminatory or disparaging remarks” towards Hashem, and cited transcripts that “clearly show” no such behavior.
In fact, those named in the suit “expressed sympathy” towards the teacher, the ruling states, adding they were “apologetic, and even encouraged (Hashem) to contact her union representative, in order to determine if she could bring a private cause of action” against a student whose Facebook post had accused her brother of being a terrorist.
The court’s full opinion is available online. Hashem now teaches Social Studies at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge.