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Teacher Poised To Win Damages For Denial Of Leave For Religious Pilgrimage

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WASHINGTON (CBS) — The U.S. Justice Department has entered into a consent decree with the Berkeley School District 87 that settles a lawsuit centered on religious accommodations.

As WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports, in the lawsuit, the federal government accused the suburban school district of denying middle school teacher Safoorah Khan unpaid leave so she could make a hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca as part of her faith.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports

Every adult Muslim is supposed to perform the hajj at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year.

In 2008, Khan asked for almost three weeks of unpaid leave to perform the hajj. After the district twice denied her request, Khan wrote the board that “based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj,” and resigned shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this year in U.S. District court in Chicago.

The district maintained the pilgrimage was unrelated to her professional duties and was not provided for by the teachers’ contract.

Khan later quit her teaching job.

But the government said the school district violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by failing to reasonably accommodate Khan’s religious practices.

If the decree is approved, the school district will pay $75,000 to Kahn. She will be awarded lost back pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees.

The case was the first brought by Justice Department in a project to ensure vigorous enforcement of the 1964 act against state and local governments by improving cooperation between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the department’s civil rights division.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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