A fired Muslim self-described whistle blower who warned of earthquake dangers to children in Los Angeles school buildings is suing the school district over alleged religious discrimination and an effort to keep his safety findings quiet.
Saif Hussain’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges that his direct supervisor, Talal Balaa, said he should not have revealed his faith, warning him that “they don’t like observant Muslims.” Since the San Bernardino shootings, “there is the idea any observant Muslim can be radicalized and commit that sort of act,” Balaa told the plaintiff, according to the lawsuit.
An LAUSD representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages on allegations of retaliation, discrimination, harassment and various state Labor Code violations.
The suit states that Hussain was hired in July 2016 and that he was told he would be the “go-to person for seismic, structural engineering projects and issues.”
Balaa was Hussain’s direct supervisor and is a co-defendant in the case, along with the LAUSD and two department managers, Christos Chrysiliou and Peyman Soroosh.
Hussain, who is of South Asian Indian and Pakistani descent, began receiving negative performance reviews after he complained of health and safety issues and revealed himself as a practicing Muslim, according to his court papers.
Last August, Hussain reported that two seismic safety programs were stalled, leaving hundreds of ceilings around the district at risk of collapse, the suit that was filed Monday states.
Hussain proposed a comprehensive approach to earthquake safety in the wake of his findings, but the three bosses told him to “shelve his efforts and concentrate on the programs the LAUSD had given him,” the suit alleges.
Hussain believes that instead of using bond money to upgrade buildings, the LAUSD “spent billions of dollars on white elephant projects,” according to the suit.
LAUSD employees in charge of seismic safety “seemed to be unconcerned about the urgency and seriousness of the risk to school children and other occupants,” including teachers and janitors, the suit says.
After Hussain raised his concerns with Moghadam and Chrysiliou, they told him to “just follow instructions” and that there was not enough money to pay for improved earthquake safety, the suit alleges.
When Hussain repeated his worries about school building safety in October, he claims Moghadam replied, “I know all of the buildings are really bad, but what can we do?”
After Hussain reported the deterioration of a bungalow at Dana Middle School in San Pedro, Balaa told him, “Gosh, you look for trouble. You’re causing a stir,” according to the complaint. Chrysiliou told him that he used words in his report that would “scare people,” and asked the plaintiff, “What happens if parents hear or the press hears?,” the suit alleges.
Hussain says he became open about being a Muslim when he told Moghadam that he would be taking a longer lunch break on Fridays to attend prayers at a local mosque. Balaa told him that he would now be targeted for his faith and that he should have just said he needed time off for errands, according to his suit.
Another Muslim who took time off to pray during the day was given a “hard time” and the co-worker later refused to worship with Hussain “because he did not want to attract more attention,” the suit alleges.
Hussain says he was given negative evaluations in November and January, in part because he is Muslim. He further alleges that he was later pressured into signing a resignation form in January and was thwarted when he tried to rescind it. He received an email from human resources stating he did not pass his probationary period and “was told not to return to work,” the suit states.
— Staff and wire reports
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