Teacher’s suit against Watson Chapel district set for trial

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Tuesday in federal court in the case of a teacher in the Watson Chapel School District who sued the district, claiming he was discriminated against because of his religion, and was subjected to a hostile work environment.

Mark Leon Essex Smith said that he was sent home to change his clothes after wearing a dashiki and kufi to school on Sept. 10, 2010, to celebrate a Muslim holiday.

The school district argued that Smith could not make a case for discrimination because his faith does not require him to wear a dashiki and kufi and that the school district applies a neutral policy and refrains from taking any public position to promote political candidates, political parties or theologies.

Smith also claimed that the district retaliated against him for filing a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission when he was removed from his teaching position and placed in an alternative learning environment.

Watson Chapel said there was no retaliation involved in the reassignment and it did not result in any reduction in salary for Smith.

Federal Judge Kristine Baker denied a motion for summary judgment filed by the school district, ruling that issues of fact remained and said the case would proceed to trial.