Muslim Police Officer Loses Religious Discrimination Lawsuit

Mohamed Hyath is a practicing Muslim of Mauritian origin. Hyath began working for the City of Decatur, Georgia as a police recruit in April 2002.

Hyath alleged that as soon as he joined the Department, he became the object of taunting and harassment based on his ethnicity and religion. Hyath contended that officers in the Department frequently referred to him by the nickname “Taliban” or “Al Queada.”

Hyath alleged that officers teased him about Muslim dress and dietary restrictions, asking him why he did not eat pork or suggesting that he order the “pork sandwich or hot dog” for lunch. Hyath claimed that his field training officer asked him on several occasions whether women they encountered in traditional Muslim dress were Hyath’s wife or mother.

In addition to these general comments, Hyath also asserted two specific instances of alleged racial harassment. The first, which occurred after Hyath was exposed to pepper spray during training, was a comment by a fellow police officer that “that’s what you get for bombing us, you damn Taliban.” The second incident involved an altered FBI poster which transposed a photograph of Hyath’s face onto a photograph of the body of a suspected Islamic terrorist.

After all of these incidents had occurred, Hyath finally complained about the alleged harassment. The City promptly started an investigation. Days later, Hyath’s wife sent a letter to the City Manager indicating Hyath wanted to resign from the Police Department. The City Manager urged Hyath to continue in his employment, and told him that the City took the allegations of harassment seriously. Hyath nonetheless resigned, and brought a religious and racial discrimination lawsuit against the City.

A federal District Court rejected Hyath’s discrimination claims. The Court noted that Hyath’s claims consisted almost entirely of allegations of offensive statements. The Court held that “a hostile work environment generally does not arise from the mere utterance of an epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee. To create a hostile work environment, racial slurs must be so commonplace, overt and denigrating that they create an atmosphere charged with racial hostility.”

Even assuming that all of Hyath’s allegations were true, the Court found that statements made by the other officers “do not indicate an atmosphere charged with racial hostility. The City’s investigation revealed that, though the statements were inappropriate, the officers expressed no hostility or ill will towards Hyath. Hyath also acknowledges that, while he was offended by the statements, they occurred in the context of persuasive nicknames, joking and teasing within the Police Department as opposed to an atmosphere charged with racial hostility.”

The Court concluded that Hyath’s allegations did not rise to the level necessary to establish a harassment case. The Court held that “while some of the statements were frequent, none were particularly severe. Hyath concedes the statements did not affect his job performance. Finally, there is no evidence that the statements were made in an intimidating manner, or accompanied by physical threats.”

Hyath v. City of Decatur, 2006 WL 825779 (N.D.Ga. 2006).

This article appears in the May 2006 issue