Teachers College Discrimination Lawsuit

Case Name: Dr. Amra Sabic-El-Rayess v. Teachers College, Columbia University

Case Type: Discrimination & Harassment

Filed in: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Docket: Case No.: 1:24-cv-02891-JMF

Case Summary

On April 17, 2024, Sanford Heisler Sharp filed a lawsuit against Teachers College, Columbia University (“the College” or “TC”) on behalf of Associate Professor of Practice Dr. Amra Sabic-El-Rayess. The Complaint alleges discrimination based on religion and age, and retaliation.

Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess is a 48-year-old Bosniak woman of Muslim religion and creed who has been in non-tenure-track positions at Teachers College (“TC”) for over a decade. During that time, the Complaint alleges, TC has repeatedly denied her tenure-track positions due to her Muslim faith and age, despite her sterling record of accomplishments as a professor, researcher and lecturer.

Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess, who survived the Bosnian Genocide and immigrated to the United States as a young adult, is also the author “The Cat I Never Named, A True Story of Love, War and Survival,” an award-winning memoir of the Bosnian War that is taught in schools throughout the United States.

At TC, Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess, whose topics of specialty include educational displacement, hate prevention, and storytelling, has amassed a record of accomplishment that outpaces tenure-track and tenured professors. She has secured multi-million-dollar grants to conduct research; has received praise from students and school officials, including TC’s President; served in leadership positions; and published extensively.

Despite this record of contributions to the College and achievements in her career, the Complaint alleges, Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess’s Muslim identity and age have functioned as a glass ceiling at a legacy graduate school of education that, upon information and belief, has never appointed a Muslim to a tenure-track or tenured position. Further, the Complaint alleges, TC retaliated against Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess for bringing her discrimination complaints to the upper echelons of the school administration by denying her both tenure-track status and a pay raise in 2023.

According to the Complaint, as far back as 2012, Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess learned from a colleague that a member of TC’s Hiring Committee for a tenure-track position had been probing into her Muslim background. In 2014, Dr. Sabic El-Rayess was told by a different colleague that her Muslim identity doomed her prospects for advancement at TC; and, as recently as 2023, TC informed Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess that she was being denied a tenure-track position once again because she lacked peer-review publications, when in fact Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess has 19 peer-reviewed publications (one of which is a book chapter that is currently in press) and is the sole author on eight of those publications.

Dr. Sabic-El-Rayess brings her claims of discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and the New York City Human Rights Law, and seeks economic, compensatory, punitive, and liquidated damages, as well as a permanent injunction.

The Complaint asks for a jury trial.

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