Student-Employee at University of Chicago Claims Race Bias

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By Hassan A. Kanu

Nov. 8 — An Indian American student-employee at the University of Chicago has filed a federal lawsuit alleging a pattern of bias against non-white employees at the school’s Center for HIV Elimination, including physical segregation, her attorney told Bloomberg BNA ( Azhar v. University of Chicago , N.D. Ill., No. 1:16-cv-10390, complaint filed 11/7/16 ).

Sameena Azhar’s complaint alleges a “pattern of discriminatory behavior towards non-white employees” that culminated in her termination after she requested business cards that were distributed to similarly situated white students.

“They initially suspended her on the notion that it was unprofessional for her to ask for the business cards, then the suspension was turned into a termination almost immediately and there was really no reason given at that point,” Azhar’s attorney, Zubair Khan, said. The complaint indicates that the university said Azhar wasn’t eligible for suspension as a student-employee and therefore would be terminated instead.

Azhar also alleged that the center routinely gave its white staff higher salaries than non-whites, granted them more flexibility in schedules and work responsibilities, and physically segregated students of color on a particular floor in the building where the center is located.

“They placed all the students of color on one floor and all the white students on another, and where the white students were was a better location,” Khan told Bloomberg BNA.

Professors stepped down from Azhar’s dissertation committee after her termination, she alleged. Other faculty members told her to stop complaining about bias if she wanted to complete her program, and she was prevented from continuing to work on a number of academic publications, Azhar said. She requested to have witnesses or a lawyer present during a grievance process but wasn’t given the opportunity, Azhar alleged. She remains a student at the university.

“The business cards issue was just sort of the last thing that was done, but we believe it's part of a problem at the University of Chicago, and in particular at this center, where students and employees are treated differently than their white counterparts,” Khan said.

The university didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Azhar is represented by Trivedi & Khan LLP in Chicago.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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