Apologize and Remedy the Harm Done to Natalie; Remove Anti-Palestinian Bias from Agnes Irwin School

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Press Release

CAIR-Philadelphia Announces EEOC Complaint Against Agnes Irwin School Over Unlawful Firing of Palestinian-American Athletic Trainer

(PHILADELPHIA, PA, 3/16/2022) — The Philadelphia Chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Philadelphia) today announced it has filed a federal charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against Agnes Irwin School (AIS), a private all-girls school, on behalf of Natalie Abulhawa, a Palestinian American Muslim athletic trainer, after she was terminated from her employment within mere days of announcing her hire in the school newsletter.

The complaint was filed by CAIR-Philadelphia Civil Rights Attorney Timothy Welbeck and Ryan Allen Hancock, of Willig, Williams, and Davidson.  Mr. Hancock is an attorney with extensive experience with employment and civil rights litigation who was retained by CAIR-Philadelphia to co-represent Ms. Abulhawa.

The complaint alleges AIS wrongfully terminated Ms. Abulhawa by using nearly decade-old social media posts as a pretext for her termination. It should be noted that said social media posts were compiled by a known Islamophobic site.  

Ms. Abulhawa, a Palestinian Muslim young woman, received an offer for employment to join AIS as a full-time Certified Athletic Trainer. Prior to joining AIS, Ms. Abulhawa successfully completed and passed multiple screenings, including a general and criminal background check, education and employment verification, employment recommendations and other screenings. 

It should be noted that Agnes Irwin School did not terminate similarly situated employees, who are not in Ms. Abulhawa’s protected class, for their previous and recent social media posts.

 In a statement, Natalie Abulhawa said:  

“It is unacceptable that Agnes Irwin treated me with such contempt and disrespect. Employment discrimination against Palestinian Americans and Muslim Americans is a real problem. Agnes Irwin School did not think twice before bulldozing my life, without even a pretense of due process.  It only took a known hate site to profile me for them to derail my career.  I am telling my story today so that Agnes Irwin School, which purports to empower women, can be held accountable for the ways in which they demeaned, humiliated, and harmed me.”

SIGN: Petition Calling AIS to Apologize to Natalie: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/apologize-to-natalie-remove-anti-palestinian-bias-from-agnes-irwin-school

CAIR-Philadelphia Staff Attorney Timothy Welbeck and Attorney Ryan Allen Hancock said in a joint statement:  

“We allege ​​The Agnes Irwin School unlawfully terminated Ms. Abulhawa’s employment because of her national origin, ethnicity, nationality and/or religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. We would like to emphasize that AIS did not terminate similarly situated employees, not in Ms. Abulhawa’s protected class, for their recent social media posts. Working with young athletes was our client’s passion, but despite a shortage of athletic trainers, she cannot get a job in her chosen field and is now forced to train for a new career, incurring new student debt and uncertainty.

“We call on AIS to do the right thing by first acknowledging and remedying the injustice Natalie Abulhawa faced and then instituting training mechanisms to address anti-Palestinian discrimination at AIS.” 

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

La misión de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.

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CONTACT: CAIR-Philadelphia Civil Rights Attorney Timothy Welbeck, twelbeck@cair.com, 404-642-0014; Ryan Allen Hancock rhancock@wwdlaw.com; CAIR-Philadelphia Education and Outreach Director Ahmet Selim Tekelioglu, PhD, 617-401-5397 (mobile), atekelioglu@cair.com.

Statement from Natalie Abulhawa

I want to begin by thanking CAIR-Philadelphia for supporting me during this difficult time and for advocating for all Muslims who face hate and discrimination. In particular, I’d like to thank my attorneys Mr. Timothy Welbeck and Mr. Ryan Hancock, as well as Ahmet Tekelioglu. 

This has been a difficult time for me as I have faced a career-altering termination for unlawful reasons. As a life-long athlete, I understand the positive role of sports in the lives of girls and women, and I was excited to begin a new journey in my career empowering young female athletes at Agnes Irwin School.  What I thought was a new and exciting chapter in my career at a school supposedly dedicated to empowering women, turned out to be a denigrating, humiliating, and disempowering experience.

In October of 2021, I was contacted by a former colleague to apply for an Athletic Trainer position at Agnes Irwin School. He indicated that he had recommended me for the job, as he was aware of my skills, integrity, and dedication to student athletes. In fact, in my two previous jobs since graduating from college, I had received stellar reviews from my supervisors, athletes, and parents.

I subsequently applied for the position at Agnes Irwin School and was called in for two interviews with several individuals at the school, including the Head of School, the Athletic Director, Director of Human Resources, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, and other personnel. 

I soon received an offer of employment from Agnes Irwin School after undergoing multiple forms of vetting including fingerprinting, criminal background checks, employment verification, verification of education and certification, etc. I accepted the offer, which required that I leave a job I loved at an excellent school and with wonderful student-athletes. I made that sacrifice because of the incredible opportunity Agnes Irwin offered.

Within days of beginning the position, that opportunity was taken from me. On Monday November 1st, a mere days after I started the job, the Athletic Director informed me that the school had received complaints from parents and faculty members over the weekend because of a dangerously misleading profile published on a known Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian hate site.  I was given no opportunity to explain the nature of that terrible website. Rather, I was told to expect to hear from the Head of School.  

Naively, I thought the meeting with the Head of School would be the opportunity to explain what should have been obvious—that a hate platform created a misleading profile of me based only on my support for an indigenous people’s struggle against colonialism. In my meeting with Head of School Sally Keidel, which lasted no more than 10 minutes, I was informed my employment was terminated effective immediately based on the misleading content compiled by that shadowy hate site.  Adding to my humiliation, Sally Keidel had campus security escort me through the school to get my things and then to my car.

The website which posted the misleading profile about me does not target actual racists or anti-Semites—such as Neo-nazis, KKK members or white nationalists. Most of its targets are students or individuals similarly vulnerable, with the intention of destroying their careers and livelihoods. 

It is sad and demoralizing that Agnes Irwin School, which claims to care about and empower women would not only give credence to such a belligerent and hateful site, but that they would so easily derail my life and my career without so much as a pretense of due process. 

The Athletic Training community is small and word gets around.  Whereas I had no trouble getting a job before, I have been struggling to get interviews with prospective employers, despite a current shortage of athletic trainers.  The harm to my reputation, finances, career and mental health has been enormous.  I’ve been forced to reconsider my career path, including going back to school to develop another skill.  In the meantime, I have been taking jobs as a freelancer, without the security of a salary, health insurance, or other benefits. 

Agnes Irwin should be held accountable for the harm they’ve done.  Institutions like this often do not hesitate to harm people like me because we are perceived to have no power.  Rather than behaving ethically and fairly, they chose to bow to the whims and xenophobia of funders. It is my hope to send a message that this is unacceptable.  I hope our schools, institutions, and society in general will come to reject the persistent interference of foreign entities into the lives of American citizens in order to intimidate them and stifle free speech and political organizing.

Photos from Press Conference