Michigan public school settles religious freedom lawsuit
A suburban Detroit High school decided to settle a lawsuit that was filed against it by a multi-awarded wrestling coach who claimed he lost his job because of his Christian beliefs.
The Fordson High School in Dearborn, which has a Muslim student majority, paid Gerald Marszalek a settlement of $24,500, while the Dearborn Public Schools, under which Fordson falls, paid a separate $500 settlement, the AP reported.
Marszalek, 65, had worked with the school from 1973 to 2008. According to the legal complaint that was filed, Marszalec earned over 450 wins and numerous wrestlers were sent to several college programs. He is in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and won the “25 Year Distinguished Service Award” by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. The All-American Athletic Association also named him “Sportsman Of The Year.”
In 2008, the year Marszalek was terminated, Fordson’s wrestling room was set to become the “Jerry Marszalek Wrestling Room.” Marszalek’s troubles began when Trey Hancock, a volunteer assistant of five years, introduced some wrestlers to Christianity during a non-school sanctioned, independent summer wrestling camp which had no affiliation with Fordson, the complaint said.
One Muslim student allegedly chose to be baptized as a Christian during the summer camp. After the incident, in full view of students and faculty, Imad Fadlallah, principal of Fordson, went to the student, called him a disgrace and punched him, the complaint said.
Fadallah also told Hancock, “Your communication with any of the students must
be extremely limited. Please note that I would like to keep this matter under strict confidentiality.
If this issue is leaked to the community, I cannot stop the adverse reaction that it will cause,” the complaint said.
Fadlallah also ordered Marszalek to terminate Hancock and keep him away from the team. On Thanksgiving Day, 2007, Fadlallah yelled at Marszalek saying, “I thought I told you to keep Trey Hancock out of Fordson.” Hancock was there to sign his son Paul Hancock, a student at the school and an All-Star wrestler with the school team, up for a Fordson “pay to play” sports program, the complaint said.
Fadlallah told Marszalek that the younger Hancock was to be ignored in all wrestling meets. During events, the Hancock family was also not allowed to assist school concession stands, the complaint said.
Marszalek said in his complaint that Fadlallah practices an illegal double standard, as he sponsors, promotes, fosters and facilitates Muslim religious activity, participation and expression in the public school–including prayer at school sanctioned events.
In the lawsuit, Fadlallah and the district are accused of violating Marszalek’s constitutional rights including free speech, free religious exercise, equal protection, expressive association and due process, The Arab American News reported.
Marszalek falls under a class of protected persons under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Elliott-
Larsen Civil Rights Act of Michigan, Act 453 of 1976 pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the school district, including Fordson High School is charged to comply with, the complaint said.
Dearborn schools admitted no liability. The district says it chose an out-of-court settlement to eliminate the cost of litigation, the AP reported.