Muslim woman claims church fired her for bias complaints
By Peter Hall, OF THE MORNING CALL
Allentown Diocese says it eliminated bookkeeper’s job for financial reasons.
A Muslim Egyptian woman says she was fired from her job as a bookkeeper at an Easton church because she complained about religious discrimination by the monsignor who was her supervisor, according to a federal lawsuit against the Diocese of Allentown.
In a response filed in federal court in Allentown this week, the diocese said it eliminated Omayma Arafa’s job at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Easton as a cost-saving measure. The diocese also says Arafa apparently misconstrued Monsignor Edward Zemanik’s efforts to be respectful of Arafa’s religious beliefs as discrimination.
“There was certainly no religious discrimination,” diocese attorney David Steckel said.
Arafa worked at St. Anthony from 2007 until January 2009, when she was let go. Her lawsuit, filed May 2, said the trouble began when Zemanik was assigned to the church and immediately displayed a “cold, distant and hostile attitude” toward Arafa.
One day in August 2008, Arafa was eating pizza for lunch when Zemanik asked “You can eat that?” He went on to ask Arafa whether there were foods that she couldn’t eat, according to Arafa’s suit.
The diocese’s response says Zemanik asked about Arafa’s dietary restrictions out of respect for her religious beliefs because the staff often ordered meals and he didn’t want to bring in food that she was forbidden to eat.
Arafa’s suit also alleges that during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting when Muslims do not eat during daylight hours, Zemanik required Arafa to “take lunch,” even though it meant sitting in her office not eating.
The diocese claims Zemanik insisted that his staff take a break during the day, even if they did not eat lunch.
In December, Arafa asked Zemanik whether she would have the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day as paid vacation. She alleges Zemanik asked “What do you care?” in a display of hostility toward Arafa’s religious beliefs.
During Christmas week, the parish was open for business and other staff were required to work, the diocese says. In its response, the diocese also denies the remark attributed to Zemanik.
Arafa also claims that she was denied health care benefits that other part-time employees in the parish received. The diocese says those employees worked part-time at St. Anthony and part-time elsewhere in the diocese to qualify for benefits.
Arafa’s suit says she complained to the diocese’s human resources director about the alleged discrimination by Zemanik and a church volunteer, but no action was taken. She claims she was fired as retaliation for complaining about her treatment.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for Arafa’s back and future pay; pain, suffering and humiliation; and punitive damages. Arafa’s attorney, Eman Abouelseoud of Penndel, Bucks County, did not return phone calls.
Original post: Muslim woman claims church fired her for bias complaints