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October 25, 2016

Lawsuit: Temple fired Baptist housekeeper, but not Muslim co-worker

A federal judge has allowed parts of a lawsuit against Temple University alleging religious discrimination to move forward.

In a decision Monday, U.S. Eastern District Judge Thomas O'Neill dismissed two claims made by Maurice Darby, a university employee for more than 25 years, against the school but greenlighted two others in an amended complaint made under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Darby, a practicing Baptist, alleges Temple did nothing about two Muslim coworkers who harassed and threatened him, but then fired him when of those coworkers claimed Darby had threatened him.

Darby alleges that a co-worker, Charles Wilson, threatened him during a union meeting and had to be physically restrained by a supervisor from hitting Darby.

In a separate March 2014 incident, Darby's co-worker, David Chesney, allegedly touched him inappropriately by placing his hand on Darby's buttocks before running away laughing, according to the complaint.

Darby claims the incident caused him serious trauma, a necessitated a trip to the emergency room because of mental distress and diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.

In both incidents, Darby contends Temple decided not to take action against Wilson or Chesney. Darby eventually confronted Chesney, and Chesney went to Temple and "falsely" claimed that Darby had threatened him, the suit alleges.

Temple reviewed Chesney's complaint and fired Darby in May 2014, the suit claims.

Darby had worked most recently as a housekeeper for the university. He was open about his faith on the job, talking with coworkers about attending Sunday services, reading Bible verses on his phone during breaks and listening to gospel music on his headphones, according to the complaint.

Wilson and Chesney were also open about their faith, both using separate Muslim first names, Darby claims. Darby was fired for allegedly threatening Chesney, but Wilson wasn't disciplined for his threats against Darby, the suit claims.

Neither Wilson nor Chesney is named in the suit.

O'Neill had originally granted a university request to dismiss Darby's allegation of religious discrimination because Darby hadn't included background information about how open he was about his faith at work.

Following the inclusion of that information in Darby's amended complaint, the O'Neill denied a Temple motion to have that complaint dismissed again. The judge also denied a university request to dismiss the lawsuit on the claim that the university retaliated against Darby for requesting extensions of medical leave.

The health issues Darby suffered after Chesney allegedly touching him led to Darby going on medical leave, which Temple twice extended at Darby's request, the lawsuit alleges.

But while on leave, school employees questioned him about when he was returning and pressured him to return immediately, Darby claims.On May 28, 2014, a doctor recommended Darby's leave be extended once again. He was fired the next day, the suit alleges.

The school said Darby's dismissal was a result of Chesney's complaint, but Darby alleges it was used as pretense to fire him. Darby contends that since Wilson wasn't fired for similar conduct, the difference was Darby's medical leave requests.

Two of Darby's claims were dismissed, including one that Temple retaliated against him for opposing unlawful discrimination for reporting that Chesney touched him. O'Neill asserted that Darby hadn't shown that Chesney's allegedly inappropriate contact was religious discrimination.

This isn't Darby's first complaint against an employer made under Title VII. He accused Stout Road Associates, a contractor that hired him as a security officer for the Radisson Hotel in Philadelphia, of allowing a hostile work environment in which he, a black man, was subject to racial and sexual discrimination.

That case was settled out of court in 2008 in an undisclosed agreement.

Temple University's legal department could not immediately be reached for comment early Tuesday afternoon.

Messages to Temple email addresses for Wilson and Chesney were not immediately returned.