Reprimanded college worker has an ally

July 21, 2005

A national civil rights group has taken up the case of a William Paterson University employee who was reprimanded for sending a professor an e-mail describing homosexuality as a “perversion.”

Jihad Daniel, a graduate student and university employee, was found guilty last month of violating state discrimination and harassment laws after he sent the head of the women’s studies department the e-mail. In it he complained about an invitation he received to an on-campus showing of a film about a lesbian relationship.

“These are perversions,” Daniel wrote. “The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned.”

The professor said she found Daniel’s one-paragraph e-mail threatening and filed a complaint with officials on the public university’s Wayne campus. They launched an investigation that eventually resulted in a letter of reprimand in Daniel’s permanent employee file.

“William Paterson’s punishment of Mr. Daniel is a direct attack on freedom of speech,” said David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil rights group that has taken up Daniel’s case.

“For the university to convict a student of ‘harassment’ for sending a single, non-threatening e-mail dangerously trivializes real harassment,” French added.

University officials declined to discuss the case.

“We don’t comment on personnel matters,” said Stuart Goldstein, a William Paterson spokesman.

The case began March 8 when Daniels received a campuswide announcement in his e-mail account inviting him to a viewing and discussion of the film “Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House” in the campus library.

The announcement, sent by Professor Arlene Holpp Scala, described the film as a “lesbian relationship story.” The event was in honor of women’s history month.

Daniel replied to Scala with a one-paragraph message asking not to be sent any more announcements related to homosexuality. Scala, chair of the women’s studies department, filed a discrimination complaint with university officials two days later.

“Mr. Daniel’s message to me sounds threatening and in violation of our university non-discrimination policy,” Scala wrote in her complaint. “I don’t want to feel threatened at my place of work when I send out announcements about events that address lesbian issues.”

Last month, William Paterson President Arnold Speert sent Daniel a letter of reprimand that said an investigation found his e-mail violated state discrimination and harassment regulations.

Daniel turned to the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for help. The foundation’s lawyers, who are known for taking up students’ civil rights cases, appealed to both Speert and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office claiming Daniel’s First Amendment rights were violated.

Both appeals were rejected, but foundation officials said they will continue to lobby to have Daniel’s reprimand removed from his permanent file.

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Schools: William Paterson University Cases: William Paterson University: Punishment on Harassment Charges for Response to Mass E-Mail