An Islamic aerospace engineer is suing NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), claiming that while she was employed there her supervisor, also a Muslim, thwarted her career because of his beliefs that Muslim women do not belong in the workplace.
Shazahd Khaligh claims Fred Hadaegh repeatedly told her that Muslim women should not work and have no need of an education. At the time, Khaligh was working on her doctorate at the University of Southern California.
Most lawsuits by Muslims claiming discrimination involve non-Muslims, according to leaders of the more than 5 million Muslims in the United States, the Associated Press reported. Several activists said Khaligh's case was the first such lawsuit they had heard of, AP said.
"You hear about this in conversations all the time, but it's usually in situations where the wife wants to work and the man has more traditional attitudes toward women," Laila Marayati, former president of the Muslim Women's League, told the AP.
Khaligh's suit, which seeks unspecified damages, will receive its first hearing in California Superior Court on Tuesday.
The suit alleges that Hadaegh constantly threatened to fire Khaligh, refused to sign off on her tuition reimbursement forms, would not allow her to submit papers to conferences as a JPL employee and discouraged her from submitting them altogether.
Khaligh also alleges that JPL managers did nothing to prevent this discrimination or harassment even though they knew about the situation.
"She was singled out because she was a woman and more particularly because she's a Muslim," said Mark J. Leonardo, Khaligh's attorney.
Hadaegh declined to comment on the suit, citing the advice of his lawyers.
"There's no substance to her claim in this case," said Gordon Krischer, the attorney representing Hadaegh and JPL. "It's a newsworthy allegation but without any basis in fact."
George Alexander, a JPL spokesman, had no comment other than to say the case is without merit.
California state Judge Mel Red Recana will be asked Tuesday to decide whether the case should continue in the courts or be sent to arbitration.
JPL said in its answer to Khaligh's suit that she is bound by written agreement to submit to binding arbitration.
Khaligh, an Iranian immigrant, worked for JPL for 11 years until she left in September 1997. Hadaegh was her supervisor from 1994 until she left.
Based in Pasadena, JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology and is the leading center for robotic exploration of outer space.