LOS ANGELES – A judge has pared a longrunning lawsuit filed by a structural engineer who formerly worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District and alleged that he was fired for complaining about being harassed because of his Muslim faith and for coming forward about alleged structural safety problems with district buildings.
Saif Hussain’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit also alleges that his direct supervisor 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,” the supervisor told the plaintiff, according to the lawsuit brought in October 2017.
On Monday, Judge Lia Martin dismissed Hussain’s claims for discrimination, harassment, retaliation and a violation of the state Labor Code. She said the plaintiff can take to trial his other four claims for three other Labor Code violations as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The judge heard arguments March 6 and took the issues under submission before ruling on Monday. In their court papers, LAUSD attorneys argued that all of the district’s actions, including Hussain’s termination as a probationary employee, were taken for “legitimate, non-discriminatory, reasons” and not because of his race or religious beliefs.
Hussain, now in his 60s, was hired in July 2016 and was told he would be the “go-to person for seismic, structural engineering projects and issues,” according to his suit.
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.
In August 2016, Hussain reported that two seismic safety programs were stalled, leaving hundreds of ceilings around the district at risk of collapse, the suit 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, he was told 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, he was told by a department manager, “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, he was told, “Gosh, you look for trouble. You’re causing a stir,” according to the complaint. A department manager 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 a department manager that he would be taking a longer lunch break on Fridays to attend prayers at a local mosque. The manager 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 2016 and again two months later, in part because he is Muslim. He further alleges that he was later pressured into signing a resignation form in January 2017 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.