Beacon News: Muslim Guard: Beliefs cost me my job

A former Kane County jail guard claims he lost his job because of his Muslim beliefs, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week in Chicago.

Abal Zaidi worked as correctional officer at the county jail in Geneva from July 31 to Dec. 19, 2006. During that time, Zaidi received more difficult assignments than non-Muslim workers and less help from supervisors, the suit alleges.

He was fired shortly after Sheriff Pat Perez — who took over the position on Dec. 1, 2006 — mandated all sheriff’s office employees be clean-shaven.

Zaidi says he objected to removing his beard because it is “an expression of his Muslim practice and belief.”

The suit says a supervisor asked Zaidi for proof of the beard’s religious meaning. But before Zaidi could do so, he met with Undersheriff Stephen Ziman and then-jail head Todd Exline.

During that meeting, Ziman and Exline told him to resign or otherwise be fired for poor performance, the lawsuit states.

“Also during this meeting, Mr. Ziman and Mr. Exline told (Zaidi) that ‘this job was not for you,'” the suit says.

The Kane County state’s attorney’s office, which represents the sheriff’s office in civil matters, has not yet seen the lawsuit and declined comment on Thursday.

The Council on American-Islam Relations, whose attorneys are working for Zaidi, said the case is a clear-cut civil rights violation, and the group’s goal is to assure Muslims can practice freely and without discrimination.

Zaidi claims he was fired for his Muslim religious beliefs rather than his performance. Zaidi’s daily observational reports were satisfactory, his most recent reports prior to being fired were flawless and he had received good performance reviews from superiors, the lawsuit says.

According to the suit, he has suffered emotional distress, lost wages and benefits, and incurred other damages due to his termination.

The one-count suit claims violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeks a written apology from the Sheriff’s Department; all wages and benefits he would have received if not for the discrimination; compensatory damages; punitive damages; attorney fees; additional relief; and an unspecified amount of money.

Kane County lawsuit

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