A former police officer in Norton, Ohio, is alleging discrimination and claiming that he was fired from his job soon after converting to Islam. Nicholas A. Matheny has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Norton, numerous staffers with the local police department and City Administrator Richard Ryland.
The lawsuit claims that officials violated federal and state discrimination law, citing retaliation, a hostile work environment and conspiracy, according to a press release published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Matheny's representation is hinging its argument upon the fact that it is illegal, concerning both state and federal laws, to make employment decisions based on religion or as retribution for an employee's complaints about alleged discrimination.
"Matheny's lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and damages and demands a jury trial," reports WKYC-TV. "It was filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Christopher A. Boyko."
In 2004, the officer was first hired by the Norton Police Department. Aside from a brief move to Nevada in 2008, he served on the force until 2010, at which point he was terminated. According to the CAIR release, Matheny was said to be an "excellent patrolman for the City" in a memo that was issued prior to his 2008 move. CAIR also claims that he was well-liked and had consistently-good performance reviews.
Problems apparently started, though in 2010, when he became a Muslim. Initially, he kept the conversion to himself and only told close friends. He was worried about the backlash he might receive, as he contends that there is anti-Islam sentiment within the department. It wasn't until September 2010, when he handed out wedding invitations, that officers found out about his new-found faith.
After seeing the line, "May Allah Bless This Marriage," Matheny claims that one of the officers responded by launching into an anti-Islamic rant. At this point, Matheny -- at least according to CAIR -- "passionately objected." There are no details in the release regarding what words or actions he took during the dialogue (or if those words and actions played a role in his dismissal).
However, it was this event and the invitation that allegedly led the rest of the department to find out about his Islamic faith. It was from that point on that Matheny says he was treated differently. Among the actions taken, he claims that a nomination he had been given for a performance reward with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was revoked (purportedly due to his faith).
Here's more, according to the press release:
Before Officer Matheny became a Muslim, he had no disciplinary write-ups in his personnel file. But once his conversion became common knowledge, his performance was suddenly seen as lacking. False and backdated write-ups were placed in Matheny’s personnel file, which were meant to create the impression that Matheny was terminated for cause, when in fact he was terminated because of his religious conversion.
Just as Officer Matheny was ending his final shift before his wedding, Chief Hete told Matheny that he would be fired. Matheny and his wife spent their honeymoon distressed over the job threat. When Matheny returned to work, Chief Hete and Administrator Ryland tried to convince Matheny to quit his job. They threatened to place backdated “warnings” in Matheny’s personnel file if he did not leave quietly. Matheny was told that if he agreed to their demands, the “warnings” would be torn up and they would give him a good reference for future employment. Matheny refused to accede to these demands and was fired.
CAIR is representing Matheny in collaboration with two lawyers from the Chandra Law Firm, LLC in Cleveland.
"It is simply un-American for a public employer to fire someone because of his religion," claims Subodh Chandra, one of the lawyers representing the former cop.