Arab and Muslim Civil Rights Issues in the Chicago Metropolitan Area Post-September 11

Chapter 3

Education, Employment, Housing, and Transportation Discrimination

The number of hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and people of similar characteristics reveals an underlying bias that some people of the Chicago area hold against these groups. However, as a number of the community forum participants mentioned, hate crimes are mostly committed by young, less educated, white males. As the presence of American flags and “God Bless America” signs at the Bridgeview march on the mosque shows, some of these people appear to be acting out a sense of perverted patriotism.

As disturbing as these actions are, possibly more alarming is the number of alleged cases of discrimination Arabs and Muslims have faced in the workplace, at schools, and at airports. In these cases, the alleged perpetrators of the acts of bias can rarely use age or knowledge levels as excuses for actions. The people responsible for these alleged incidents are civic leaders. Therefore, if proven, these incidents reveal a much deeper bias that is woven into society.

Community Representatives

Kamron Memon Law Offices of Kamron Memon

I’d like to give you some examples of the real people with whom I have dealt with since September 11. An Arab Muslim teacher in the Chicago public schools says she was verbally abused by teachers and students. The principal falsely criticized the teacher’s performance and had her removed from the school. She has filed a complaint at the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

An Arab Muslim truck driver says he was told he could no longer drive for the company because his vacation to Jordan was suspicious. He offered to provide information about his vacation, but the company was not interested. He will be filing a lawsuit under Section 1981 in federal court.

An African American Muslim law enforcement officer was told she could not wear her hijab at work. She has filed with the EEOC.

An Arab Muslim mental health specialist at a hospital says he was verbally harassed and then fired after he filed a discrimination complaint at the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.

An African American Muslim woman was interviewed for a position at a nursing home and was told she could not wear her hijab at work. Following the interview, the woman was told the position would not be filled. But, in fact, the position remained open. She has filed with the EEOC.

A Pakistani Muslim woman who was traveling through O’Hare Airport says she was singled out for a strip search because she wore a hijab. Her lawsuit has been filed in federal court. I’m working with the ACLU on that case.

An Arab Muslim working in housekeeping at a hospital says he was interrogated by his supervisors and security regarding his religion and his national origin, and regarding what he thought of the terrorist attacks. He was then told that people were uncomfortable having him at the hospital, but he might be able to return after things calmed down. However, he was never reinstated. He has filed at the EEOC.

A Pakistani Muslim engineer says he was let go after he asked for time off for medical reasons soon after September 11, 2001. That lawsuit will be filed in federal court.

A Christian Arab waitress says she was subjected to harassment, suspended, and then fired. She has filed a complaint with the EEOC.

An Arab Muslim intern working on computer databases was told that people at work were uncomfortable having him around. He was fired. He has filed with the EEOC.

An Arab Muslim customer service representative was fired, and she has filed at the EEOC.

An Arab Muslim security guard was told by his supervisor on September 11 that he would be deported. Subsequently, he was suspended. And when he returned from suspension after several months, he was denied regular assignments.

A couple of additional points. I have seen that such discrimination affects people at various levels. Naturally, it hurts them financially. But it also hurts them emotionally. Several of the Muslims I have worked with have experienced depression and required psychiatric treatment as a result of the discrimination.

Second, I am concerned about the possibility of jury bias in the event that these cases reach a jury. This is compounded by the fact that there are rarely ever Muslims selected to be on juries, for various reasons. I believe that any Muslim who happens to be in a jury pool when one of these cases reaches the jury, that any such Muslim will be stricken by the defense on the grounds that a Muslim cannot be impartial in a case involving another Muslim’s allegations of discrimination. I do not know if judges have received training since September 11 relating to how to deal with anti-Muslim bias and the lack of Muslim jurors. If this has not been done, I hope the Commission will address the issue with the federal judicial conference.

I just want to emphasize about the possibility of an employer taking an action a long time after September 11. The hostility ebbs and flows because the community will be moving along, and then suddenly some public figure will make a statement that paints Muslims in a bad light. It is quite possible that when that happens, that suddenly people who are in the general community who have heard those negative statements will say, “Hey, I’ve got one of these Muslims working with me or for me.” And then that will lead to a discrimination problem.

You could say it all intensified, starting September 11. But it’s not just September 11; it’s these new incidents that keep coming up. For example, it was in the press last week that a leader of the Southern Baptists made some anti-Muslim comments and it really exploded. Now, some of their leadership is stepping back and saying, “Look, we may have some disagreements with Muslims, but Muslims are not our enemy. Satan is our enemy.” But still, there may be Southern Baptists out there who, upon hearing their leadership making certain comments may feel justified in mistreating Muslim co-workers.

Gregory Mitchell, Board Member Muslim Civil Rights Center

The first incident involved a Palestinian American and his brother who obviously is also Palestinian American. They were both employed by a local bank and subsequent to 9/11, they were written up by a particular supervisor for acts that really were not a violation of bank policy. They had more or less an office job; they were reassigned to doing more or less custodial work and ultimately one was fired and the other was asked, “Why don’t you quit?” And they came to the Civil Rights Center seeking help.

Another individual was Asian American. This individual was a medical doctor practicing in Rockford, Illinois. And subsequent to September 11 he voiced to his colleagues what his opinions were relative to the causes of September 11 and whom he believed was behind it. And in expressing his opinions, the administration of the hospital deemed that he was inciting fear among the staff and he went through a process of disciplinary proceedings within the hospital.

Itedal Shalabi Arab American Family Services

We do KidCare. KidCare is a national health insurance for people who work but do not have enough money to buy insurance. This insurance is offered throughout the state for pregnant women and children under 18. It is also given to women who are not legal residents but are pregnant and will have children who are going to be born American citizens. We need to take care of them.

A lot of the women that come to the agency refuse to come and apply for this insurance because they are afraid that the government would know who they are and could come and take them or take their husbands away. I had 10 women who I tried to convince to come in and fill out this application, and they refused. Now, we have 10 children who will be born American citizens at a disadvantage because their moms did not take care of their health while they were pregnant.

We still have school issues. We have issues of kids who had white friends for years, but they no longer want to be or play with our kids. We had kids in classrooms being invited to birthday parties except Arab or the Muslim children, even though that had not happened prior to September 11.

Girls are being picked on because they wear the hijab. Some students have been pulling them off their heads, and then teachers ignore it. There have been Muslim kids being picked on and hit after school, and no one saying anything about it. Even the Muslim students’ parents are not saying anything. As one mom told me, “Well, they are upset and let’s not push them. Look at what happened. My son only had a black eye. It’s okay.” Arab and Muslim kids are being told by their parents to put up with the abuse and just to ignore it.

Balwant Hansra Parliament of World Religions

Sikhs have suffered at the airport by being unnecessarily harassed. Airport security would want you basically to remove the turban right in front of everybody. They do not understand that the turban is a dress. Asking a person to remove his turban is like undressing in public, and we don’t appreciate that. We recognize that there may be a security problem, so we suggest to those people and the police department of the city of Chicago to take those wearing turbans aside in a private room and search. However, do not insult them in public. That’s one problem that the Sikhs have been facing.

Harvey Grossman, Legal Director American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois

We’ve also seen a great deal of profiling at the airports. We represent a young woman who is a U.S.-born citizen of Pakistani descent from Ohio and serves as a vista worker. She graduated from Ohio State University over a year ago, and for the last year has been volunteering with vista. She came to Chicago to attend a vista conference, and on her way out of O’Hare, she was profiled by the Illinois National Guard, who are no longer in O’Hare Airport, and one of the private security companies because she wore a hijab.

She is a woman of Muslim belief and she wore a head covering. When she went through the metal detector, she didn’t set off a beep. They used a hand metal detector around her head. She still did not set off a beep. Nevertheless, she was asked to remove her hijab in public, which was against her faith, contrary to her beliefs. She indicated that she would be willing to remove the hijab in private in front of a woman, but not in front of a man. She was badgered repeatedly when they attempted to coerce her into removing her hijab in public. She finally was able to get them to take her to a place that I think is called a discreet search room at O’Hare Airport. One of the security officers, a male, still insisted that he be part of the search. Finally, she resisted, and they took her into this room.

They removed the hijab, they searched her scalp, and they found nothing, as might be expected. Then, for reasons that can only be attributed to the fact that she was a Muslim woman of traditional belief in having worn a hijab and, thus, created a suspicion in their untrained minds, or else they simply were punishing her for her assertion of her religious belief, they then subjected her to a strip search that was totally mindless. They put their hands inside of her bra. They unzipped her pants and put their hands inside of her crotch and for a 23-year-old woman, I think for anybody, but for a 23-year-old woman who had traveled here in service to her country to attend a vista conference and be subjected to that kind of treatment was just beyond humiliation and embarrassment. It was, I think, a blotch on all of us and our city that this could happen to her. That’s the subject of a federal lawsuit.

I wish I could say that this was the only case we’ve seen. But we’ve seen a political science professor at Lake Forest College removed from an airplane because he switched seats. Two other people switched seats; they were Caucasian and no problem. He switched seats; he was pulled off that airplane. United did not allow him to fly that day. He was not allowed to give a lecture at another university in the Midwest that he was flying to.

Government and Local Officials

Rita Coffey, Program Analyst Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Since the events of September 11, the EEOC has documented a significant increase in the number of charges of discrimination based on religion and national origin. Individuals who are or are perceived to be Muslim, Arab, South Asian, or Sikh have filed many of these charges. These charges most commonly allege harassment and discharge.

The EEOC, through its national charge database, regularly tracks the numbers of charges received under Title VII alleging discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin. In order to further track how many of these charges are now being filed by individuals who believe they have experienced backlash discrimination, in early October the commission implemented into its charge database a new code, process Type D, retroactive to September 11. As of May 29, 2002, EEOC field offices throughout the country have received 515 such charges. Discharge has been alleged to be an issue in 319 of these charges. And harassment has been alleged to be an issue in 206 of these charges.

Prior to September 11, EEOC already was tracking the number of charges filed nationwide alleging discrimination on the basis of several specific religions, including the Muslim faith. Between September 11, 2001, and May 29, 2002, the EEOC received 497 charges on the basis of the Muslim religion. During the comparable period one year earlier, 209 charges were received.

The EEOC has been proactive in its efforts to prevent September 11-related workplace backlash against individuals who are or perceived to be Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs. On September 14, 2001, Cari M. Dominguez, chair of the EEOC, called on all employers and employees across the country to promote tolerance and guard against unlawful workplace discrimination based on national origin and religion. EEOC offices around the country, including the Chicago district office, have initiated and participated in numerous outreach programs to the Arab, Sikh, and Muslim communities to address the issues of discrimination based on national origin and religion as a result of the events of September 11.

I would say that [the number of complaints filed by Muslims and Arab Americans] has doubled [since September 11]. An individual does have 300 days from the time that an action occurs to file a complaint with us. Some people do wait to come in; they do not come in right away. We have found instances, too, where September 11 has come and gone, and there was really no adverse action taken. But for some reason or another, it’s a new year, January, February, and the employer decides to take an adverse action against the employee. So, the complaints are still continuing to come in.

As part of EEOC’s ongoing efforts to prevent backlash discrimination, three new fact sheets have been developed. The first fact sheet was developed in early October 2001 to supplement the fact sheets on religion and national origin discrimination. It is the employment discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or national origin.[1] In May of 2002, the EEOC announced the availability of two additional fact sheets. The first one is questions and answers about employers’ responsibility concerning the employment of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs, which includes information about hiring and other employment decisions: harassment, religious accommodation, temporary assignment, background investigations, and where to go for more guidance.[2]

The second one is questions and answers about workplace rights of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and Sikhs under the equal employment opportunity laws, which is geared toward em­ployees, including information about hiring and discharge, harassment, religious accommoda­tion, and how to file a charge of discrimination.[3] The new fact sheets are available by contacting EEOC’s publications distribution center, as well as on EEOC’s Web site, which is The Web site also offers a special September 11 information section with additional materials and resources.

In January 2002, the Chicago district office settled a religious discrimination claim against Motorola. In May of 2000, well before the events of September 11, Motorola failed to accommodate two Muslim workers’ request to leave work to attend prayer services at a mosque, and then fired them after they attended prayer services. The consent decree required Motorola to pay $60,000 to the two individuals who filed the charges of discrimination. In addition, Motorola is required to reasonably accommodate employees who request to attend religious services and enjoined them from retaliating against individuals who assert their rights under Title VII. Motorola must also provide training to management employees at the Arlington Heights facility. While this took place before September 11, it should send a signal to employers and workers that the EEOC will work vigorously to enforce the Title VII rights of all employees of all religious faiths and not tolerate discrimination against Muslims.

The other thing that EEOC has been doing is outreach where we have met with members of the Sikh community, and we’ve met with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. We met with them because they are the ones who can go out into the community and tell those who will not come forward because they’re afraid of the government that they need not be afraid.

William Shaver, Chief of Staff Chicago Police Superintendent’s Office

We’re committed to creating a series of training videos based off of a series of multicultural forums to create a library of videos to discuss the diversity and individuals who the police can encounter in the city and work with in the city. Those videos will be available for checking out. In addition, the police department has a streaming system where we can show the video to every individual in the department through a video streaming system. The videos can be shown during roll call training so that everyone will be exposed to the videos that are specifically produced on these issues.

Interestingly, the first video has been produced because the Chicago Police Department recently took the responsibility of manning checkpoints at O’Hare and Midway airports after the National Guard was pulled out by the Transportation Department. As part of the four-hour shift training, it’s mandatory they view a video that’s been produced to discuss different nationalities, to discuss how to approach those individuals, to discuss their beliefs, to discuss the type of courtesy and respect each individual deserves, regardless of how they’re dressed or how they appear. Included in that video are members from the Sikh community, from the Muslim community, and from the Greek Orthodox community describing the significance of their dress. For example, a turban isn’t just a hat. It is a piece of religious garb to be treated with respect. It can be patted down, but in private. The individuals on the video each express to the officers that they’re simply looking for respect. They are happy to comply, and each and every one of those individuals realizes the need for security at those airports. We all do.

It’s not just a police issue, it’s a community issue, every community in the city. The Muslim woman on the tape indicates that there’s significance to her wearing her scarf, and she would prefer, if there’s a need for a pat down, to be searched by a woman, not a man, because she can’t take that scarf off in the company of men who are outside of her family.

These are simply things that, as law enforcement to perform our duties in a professional manner, we need to know. And we’re making sure that those individuals on the front line know about that. But also, we show the video to other individuals at the airport and provide it to other law enforcement agencies. We also want to continue producing other videos that can help us in educating ourselves. I think it goes part and parcel with the commitment of the Chicago Police Department to community policing. We have to reach out to every segment and every community to include people, to make sure that they know that they are welcome. Not just welcome, but vital to the equation. People in the community need to know the police department condemns any type of enforcement action where only the national origin, only the religious beliefs, only the personal beliefs of the individual are taken into account for the stop, or for the arrest, or for the detention, or for an investigatory stop.

Helen Serassio, Attorney  Office of Aviation and Enforcement Proceedings  U.S. Department of Transportation

Let me begin by explaining our jurisdiction and the respective responsibilities of the three agencies within the Department of Transportation that play a role in airline security and related issues. First, there’s the newly created Transportation Security Administration, which was tasked with developing airline security requirements, as well as investigating complaints alleging discriminatory treatment by federal security screeners.

Second, there is the Federal Aviation Administration, which is responsible for investigating complaints alleging discriminatory treatment by airport personnel. For example, airport police.

And, third, there’s the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Secretary, which is responsible for investigating key security-related discrimination complaints and allegations of discriminatory treatment by air carrier personnel. This is the agency I work with.

Members of the public who feel they have been the subject of discriminatory actions or treatment by air carriers, airports, or screeners may file a complaint to these various agencies within the Department of Transportation.[4] The department’s Web site, http://airconsumer.ost., has this information available. And we’ve actually listed which agency you would file with depending on who you feel has violated your civil rights. Because there are more players now at the airport when you go through the different levels, it has become very confusing for the general public to know where they should turn. So, this is laid out and made much more simplistic to know where to turn to file your complaints.

In regard to the investigatory process for civil rights complaints in the general counsel’s Aviation Enforcement Office, we receive a discrimination complaint and we enter that complaint into our computerized industry monitoring system. Then we send an acknowledgment letter to the complainant. After we get the complaint, we send it out to the airline and ask the airline to reply to the passenger with a copy of their response to us. We also request a separate response to us from the airline concerning any information required by law to remain confidential. We then review the carrier’s response and take further action as appropriate.

Generally, we pursue enforcement action on the basis of the number of complaints that we receive against an airline, if we can infer a pattern or a practice of discrimination. However, there are those occasional egregious conducts done by airlines that warrant individual responses to them. And in those cases, we will pursue individual enforcement action on the individual egregious occurrences.

The highest priority in the general counsel’s Aviation Enforcement Office is to ensure that the civil rights of air travelers are not abused by airlines we regulate. Therefore, we thoroughly investigate each and every discrimination complaint that we receive.

The enforcement office is statutorily limited in the remedies it may pursue against airlines in violation of the federal antidiscrimination statute.[5] We may not award monetary damages or pecuniary relief to the injured party. The enforcement office is limited to issuing cease and desist orders describing unlawful conduct by carriers in the future, and assessing civil penalties payable to the government. We may assess civil penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation of federal antidiscrimination statutes prohibiting U.S. and foreign air carriers from subjecting any air travelers to discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry. We may only take such action through settlement negotiations, enforcement action, or after a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.

Since September 11, we have received 32 complaints from persons alleging that they were removed from flights or denied permission to board because they are or were perceived to be Arab, Asian, Southeast Asian descent, or Muslim, three of which were received after January 1 of 2002. In addition, the enforcement office has received 112 complaints alleging discrimination by air carriers based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or gender prior to boarding at airline checkpoints, passenger screening locations, or boarding gates. Twenty-seven of these complaints were received after January 1, 2002.

Clearly, there’s been a significant reduction in the number of security-related discrimination complaints in recent months. However, the department feels that even one security-related discrimination complaint is one too many. The allegations of discrimination that are currently being investigated involve various airlines and passengers throughout the country. The Department of Transportation takes these cases very seriously, and we continue to take various actions to protect our authority to pursue it. We change airline procedures that lead to these complaints and attempt to increase our resources to pursue these cases more effectively.

Next, let me move on to the steps we have taken with regard to security and discrimination since the hijackings and tragic events of September 11. First, we have encouraged each airline to take steps so employees understand that it is not only wrong, but also illegal to discriminate against people based on their race, ethnicity, or religion. We have reminded airlines that federal law prohibits air carriers from discriminating against passengers on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.

A copy of the tolerance memo that we e-mailed to the airlines on September 21, 2001, has also been placed on our Web site.[6] We distributed a policy statement to all DOT [Department of Transportation] employees involving transportation security and inspection services across all modes of transportation. Longstanding DOT policy prohibits unlawful discrimination against individuals because of their race, color, religion, ethnicity, or national origin. We have mailed letters to the general counsel of all major U.S. carriers requesting that airlines provide us information about incidents that may have occurred between September 11 and December 31, 2001, involving the removal of passengers from the flight or for safety and security reasons. And we have gone over each and every one of those that we’ve received from the airlines.

We’ve issued guidance on frequently asked questions of September 11 concerning the air travel of people who are or may appear to be of Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descents or Muslim and Sikh.[7] We have participated and will participate in a number of forums like these sponsored by the Department of Justice, Department of Education, state officials, and we have been to quite a few by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. We have met with representatives of the Sikh, Arab, and Muslim communities on numerous occasions to hear their concerns about recent discriminatory treatment in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11. And we have worked with them on finding out what issues these communities have had, and what we can do to help address them.

In conclusion, we pray and will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the airport security procedures mandated by the FAA and implemented by the airlines are not unlawfully discriminatory at the DOT. Protecting the rights of airlines passenger, next to safety, is our highest priority.

[1] See appendices B and C.

[2] See appendix D.

[3] See appendix E.

[4] 49 C.F.R. pt. 21 (2002). See appendices F and G.

[5] 49 U.S.C. §§ 40127, 41310, 41712, 46301 (2002).

[6] See < 21.htm>.

[7] See appendix H.