Federal judge moves discrimination suit forward for 2 teachers fired over Palestinian speaker outrage

Jim Melwert
August 07, 2019 - 2:37 pm

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LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A federal judge is letting a discrimination case move forward, brought by two former Friends’ Central School teachers who were fired over controversy about a Palestinian speaker. 

Former Friends’ Central teachers Ariel Eure and Layla Helwa were fired in 2017 after a Palestinian professor was invited to speak at the Main Line Quaker school, then uninvited after parents objected. 

“My position is that they were scapegoated and defamed,” said Mark Schwartz, the lawyer representing the former teachers.

The school's attorneys tried to get the case dismissed, in part arguing the court could not weigh in because the First Amendment prohibits the government from weighing in on a religious dispute. But a federal judge ruled there is enough to move forward on claims of discrimination and defamation.

“I’m happy about the outcome, and we’ll now proceed to discovery and taking some depositions. The judge was very clear in setting forth the elements we need to prove and we’ll be able to prove them,” Schwartz said.

Swarthmore professor Sa’ed Atshan was invited to speak at the school’s Peace and Equality for Palestine club. Schwartz said the speech was approved by the school, but when the announcements went out, it was cancelled after some parents complained about Asthan's support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Related: Fired teachers sue Friends' Central over Palestinian speaker controversy

Eure and Helwa were placed on leave, then fired after they attended a student protest and discussion on the cancellation of the speech.

Dee Spagnuolo, an attorney representing Friends' Central added in a statement that the initial complaint "lacked merit," and she believes an objective review "will find the remaining claims are equally meritless."

"Throughout the events in question the school has engaged in thorough and thoughtful Quaker decision making," Spagnuolo continued. "The school remains committed to building and maintaining an inclusive and diverse community delivering an education that is intellectual, thoughtful and respects a wide range of viewpoints and experiences."