A Chicago dentist is seeking a second, higher legal opinion as he tries to refute the claims of a former Muslim employee, who claims he discriminated against her by forbidding her from wearing her hijab at work.
Dr. Dhiraj Sharma, owner of American Dental Associates, recently filed a petition for common law writ of certiorari in Cook County Circuit Court, asking the court to intervene in his dispute with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Named respondents are the Commission on Human Relations, and Mirta Barrera, a former Sharma employee who lodged the complaint against the dentist with the Commission under the city’s Human Rights Ordinance.
According to Sharma’s petition, he hired Barrera, a Muslim of Hispanic descent, on Jan. 25, 2013, the day she applied for a job as dental assistant. However, according to court documents, Barrera alleged in a Sept. 20, 2013, complaint to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations that Sharma on Jan. 30, 2013, told her not to wear her hijab to work.
“She alleges that she told him that it is part of her religious beliefs and that she must wear it, further alleging that Dr. Sharma responded that ‘this is a professional office’ and that ‘it’s all in (her) head’ and to ‘keep (her) religion at home,’ and ‘do not wear it (hijab) to work’ and that it would ‘make patients uncomfortable,’” according to the complaint. “Barrera further alleged that Dr. Sharma used Dr. Moussa, a female Muslim doctor, as an example of a female Muslim who did not wear a hijab at work.”
This, according to her complaint, caused Barrera to cry; she says she didn’t wear a hijab at work again until a week before she was fired on March 20, 2013.
To counter those allegations, Sharma repeated the side of the story he presented in an Oct. 25, 2013, response to the complaint. He alleged Barrera initiated the hijab conversation, which took place several weeks after she was hired, not five days later.
While Sharma acknowledged mentioning Moussa, he “denied using her as an example and denied instructing Barrera to not wear her hijab.” He also said Barrera began wearing the hijab “mere days” after their conversation.
The Commission on Human Relations held an administrative hearing on the matter on Oct. 21, 2014. Barrera filed a post-hearing brief on the deadline of Feb. 11, 2015. American Dental and Sharma did not do so. The hearing officer issued a ruling on April 10, 2015, and the Commission followed with a final order on Aug. 4.
Sharma’s petition noted the hearing officer found Barrera was not terminated “as a result of discriminatory animus,” a finding the Commission adopted. In the big picture, however, “the hearing officer made a finding that the facts as pleaded and testified to by Barrera to be the true facts in this case,” according to Sharma’s petition.
The petition further noted this “erroneous finding (is) based upon a perceived lack of credible testimony on the part of Dr. Sharma due to inconsistencies between what was pleaded and what was testified to.”
In addition to asking the court to issue the writ, Sharma asked the court to issue an emergency stay of enforcement forcing the Commission to suspend its legal fees and cost determination process. Ultimately, Sharma asked the court to reverse the commission’s decision.
American Dental and Sharma are represented in the matter by attorneys Zubair A. Khan and Spelios T. Bacoyanis, of Trivedi & Khan, of Chicago.