A former Medical College of Wisconsin professor is suing the medical college, alleging she was disciplined for arriving late to work after attending a religious service on an Islamic holiday and was ultimately terminated as retaliation when she filed a religious discrimination complaint.
Zainab Basir, who had worked for MCW for nearly 20 years when her contract ended in February 2017, filed the lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Wisconsin.
Basir, a Brookfield resident, alleges she received discriminatory treatment when she arrived late to work after attending a service for Ramadan Eid, a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims, in 2015. After protesting that treatment, she was served a non-renewal notice, she said. The Medical College of Wisconsin issued a statement Wednesday, saying it “vigorously denies” the claims filed in the complaint.
Basir’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
Basir was initially hired as an assistant professor in MCW’s pathology department in 1998 and was promoted in 2005 to associate professor. She remained in that position until February 2017.
According to the complaint, Basir arrived to work around 12:45 p.m. on July 17, 2015 after having previously notified her coworkers that she would be coming in late to attend a religious service. The policy and practice of her department was that physicians did not have a set time to start or leave work, and they were generally allowed to leave the premises for lunch or personal errands, the complaint said.
Basir alleges that, when her supervisors learned she was absent from work that morning to attend the service, they immediately changed some of her professional duties and announced the decision to others in the department. The complaint indicates that Basir considered the change in her duties discipline for missing work to attend the religious service.
Basir sent an email to her supervisor, pathology department chair Saul Suster, opposing the change in her professional duties. At that time, Suster asked Joseph Kershner, dean of the school of medicine, to approve a non-renewal one-year notice for Basir, according to the complaint.
On Aug. 4, 2015, Basir served MCW with a letter opposing the alleged religious discrimination. On Sept. 25, 2015, Basir was presented a performance improvement plan in response to her absence on July 17, which set specified work hours that were not required of any other faculty members, according to the complaint. The next week, MCW changed Basir’s responsibilities, moving her from breast pathology to cytology, where she had not worked for six years and which required her recertification.
Basir filed a religious discrimination complaint in October with the Wisconsin Equal Rights Division, which was cross-filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In December, her supervisor denied her permission to speak at a professional conference and to attend two other professional conferences, the complaint alleges. When Basir protested, Suster “compromised Dr. Basir’s standing within the department by his negative inferences about her during faculty meetings,” the complaint alleges. On Feb. 26, 2016, Suster issued Basir a terminal one-year contract, citing a “lack of general fit within the Department of Pathology,” according to the complaint.
Basir had previously received high marks on her performance evaluations, including one as recently as January 2015, in which she was applauded for her “excellent performance and contribution,” according to the complaint.
MCW issued a statement denying the claims in the complaint.
“The State Equal Rights Division conducted a thorough investigation of all of Dr. Zainab Basir’s claims following her complaints from 2015-2016 to that agency and dismissed Dr. Basir’s complaints with findings of ‘no probable cause,'” the MCW statement said. “The matter has proceeded subsequently through administrative agency proceedings until Dr. Basir recently chose to remove her case to federal court, a forum available to all plaintiffs in employment disputes. MCW is confident in the merits of its defenses.”
“MCW maintains a firm commitment to diversity and fosters an inclusive community in which individuals are valued and respected,” the statement said. “MCW is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate in hiring or employment on the basis of age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, veteran status, disability or sexual orientation”
Basir is seeking compensation for lost wages and benefits and reinstatement to her previous position.
The EEOC received 3,436 charges alleging discrimination on the basis of religion in 2017. According to the EEOC, the top issues alleged in religion charges are discharge, harassment, terms and conditions of employment and reasonable accommodation.
In about 75 percent of the 3,997 cases that were resolved in 2017, EEOC determined there was no reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred based on evidence obtained in investigation. EEOC realized 233 settlements and 43 successful conciliations of those nearly 4,000 resolutions in 2017.