ELIZABETH — A Muslim student and her Army veteran husband say a Union County College professor cruelly mistreated the student just because of her religion.

This is the second lawsuit this year filed by a Muslim student alleging religious discrimination at the public school.

In the federal lawsuit filed this month, city resident Maryam Naziri said math instructor Marsha D. Worrell often berated and spoke to Naziri in a demeaning manner, which she did not do to other students.

The lawsuit says that Naziri's hijab — a traditional head covering worn by many Muslim women — and her Afghan origin may have been the reasons why. Naziri moved to the United States with her husband in 2014.

Naziri said that an interaction with Worrell in September brought her to tears. Naziri said Worrell refused to allow her to take a chapter test until she finished her assignments for the following chapter even though all other students had been given the test after finishing work on the previous chapter, which was the class policy.

The lawsuit says that after a tearful Naziri stepped outside to compose herself, she returned to the classroom and Worrell "continued raucously berating Ms. Naziri."

After Naziri reported this treatment to UCC's equal employment opportunity/affirmative action/Title IX coordinator, the lawsuit says she learned from the administrator that Worrell had gone to the Elizabeth police on Sept. 21 and accused Naziri of making a "terroristic threat."

"According to Defendant Worrell, a dispute over a math test with a female student who wears a hijab constitutes terrorism," the lawsuit says. "Such an absurd and defamatory statement can only be motivated by Defendant Worrell's Islamophobic, xenophobic and discriminatory beliefs."

Naziri's attorney, Traiq Hussain, of the Ridgefield Park firm Hussain & Khan, said Friday that his client had not received any criminal charges from the police or the court and he was not sure whether police had taken down Worrell's complaint.

"Words like that are not used unless the person involved in a Muslim," Hussain said.

Naziri's husband is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit because the complaint alleges two counts of defamation, which allow a spouse to be a party to a suit, Hussain said.

Naziri's husband, Nisar, served as a combat linguist with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for seven years, the lawsuit says, and false accusations of terrorism "can have dire consequences including profiling, detention at airports and other security checkpoints, increased scrutiny by the FBI and other federal authorities, and loss of housing and employment opportunities."

"The profound irony of this case in that Mr. Naziri risked his life assisting the U.S. military in combating terrorism in Afghanistan, eventually fleeing the war-torn and terrorism-plagued country with his wife," the lawsuit adds.

A spokesman for the university said that the student's complaint remains under investigation by the school.

"It is the stated policy of Union County College that the College is committed to provide an environment of mutual respect and trust, which is free of all forms of discrimination. Consequently, all allegations of behavior alleging violations of this core principal are vigorously investigated," Vice President Bernard F. Lenihan said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5.

Earlier this year, a another Muslim student sued the school in Superior Court after her professor failed her for the course even though she had received As on assignments that were supposed to be 60 percent of her grade. The lawsuit said the professor had spent a semester saying all Muslims are terrorists.

 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include a response from a Union County College official and to reflect that Nisar Naziri also is a student at the college.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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