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Sonia Ghawanmeh v. Islamic Saudi Academy

April 26, 2012

SONIA GHAWANMEH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ISLAMIC SAUDI ACADEMY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

I conclude that plaintiff has failed to prevail on any of her claims and that judgment must be entered in favor of the defendant. Below are my findings of fact and conclusions of law.

FINDINGS OF FACT

Background

1. Plaintiff, Sonia Ghawanmeh,*fn1 is a naturalized American citizen originally from Jordan. Second Amended Complaint [#20-2] ¶ 16. She has a degree in Islamic studies from the Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America. PEX 1; 5/23/11 Tr. at 12-13.

2. The defendant is the Islamic Saudi Academy ("ISA").*fn2 [#20-2] ¶¶ 10, 11.

3. The Chairman of the Board of the ISA is always the Ambassador of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia. 5/25/11 Tr. at 89.

4. The ISA may not reject a Saudi student but it may reject a non-Saudi student. 5/25/11 Tr. at 90.

5. The ISA is divided into four schools: 1) the Boys' Elementary School, 2) the Girls' Elementary School, 3) the Boys' High School and 4) the Girls' High School. 5/27/11 Tr. at 38. It also has two locations, one in Fairfax and one in Alexandria. 5/23/11 Tr. at 273.

6. The ISA provides instruction in English and in Arabic. 5/23/11 Tr. at 13. Every student at the ISA has to take Arabic. Id. at 261. Arabic and Islamic are taught in Arabic. Id. Everything else is taught in English. Id. In the Islamic class, students are taught the principles of the Koran. Id.

7. If the ISA wishes to employ a teacher, it first gives the teacher a letter of intent in May of the year prior to the academic year in question. 5/23/11 Tr. at 262. The prospective employee then returns the letter to the ISA. Id. If the teacher indicates a desire to teach the following year, a contract is issued. Id. The ISA requires that their teachers sign a yearly contract. Id. at 18. Teachers work from September through August. Id. at 145.

8. Certain employees who work at the ISA are actually employed by the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia. 5/24/11 Tr. at 56. Although their compensation may be different, they are still bound by the ISA's rules and regulations. Id. at 58-59.

9. Teacher schedules are usually prepared in August. 5/27/11 Tr. at 60. Generally, principals tell the school coordinators which teachers have been assigned to them and then class schedules are drawn up. Id.

10. "Crossover teachers" are those that teach in multiple schools. 5/27/11 Tr. at 38. Crossover teachers report to the Principals of the respective schools as well as to Department heads. Id. at 40-41.

11. Director Generals have the authority to hire and fire employees. 5/23/11 Tr. at 258.

12. ISA employees are usually paid on the last day of the month, except if there is a holiday, in which case paychecks are distributed before the holiday. 5/23/11 Tr. at 220.

13. Attendance records are maintained by Sayed Ahmed. 5/25/11 Tr. at 92.

14. Teachers may take up to two days of medical leave without a letter from a doctor. 5/23/11 Tr. at 268; 5/25/11 Tr. at 92. A request for three or more days must be accompanied by a doctor's note. Id.

15. All ISA employees are given 7 sick days (56 hours) and 3 personal days (24 hours). 5/25/11 Tr. at 91.

16. ISA employees may not take sick or personal leave immediately before or after a scheduled holiday or annual leave in order to extend that leave. 5/24/11 Tr. at 70-72; 5/27/11 Tr. at 127; JEX 48.

17. If an employee takes sick leave immediately before or after a scheduled holiday or annual leave, that employee must submit a doctor's report. 5/27/11 Tr. at 126; JEX 48.

18. Every employee qualifies for family medical leave. 5/23/11 Tr. at 270. Teachers must apply for family medical leave and it is leave without pay. Id. at 268. Employees may be granted leave to, inter alia, "care for a sick member of the family unit." JEX 40 at 1. "[U]p to eighty-four (84) calendar days of unpaid leave may be granted during the period of the contract/agreement of employment." JEX 41 at 1.

19. Teachers may not take certain vacation days during the year whereas administrators may take their vacation days during the year because they work through the summer. 5/23/11 Tr. at 270; 5/24/11 Tr. at 72; 5/26/11 Tr. at 48. Employees may take leave without pay "to extend annual leave" as long as it doesn't exceed ten days. JEX 41 at 1.

20. Dr. Samy Abdulwahab Moussa, an Egyptian, began working for the ISA in December 1984. 5/25/11 Tr. at 85-86. He has a bachelor's degree in management, a masters degree in development, and a Ph.D in communication arts. Id. at 85. Since 2002, Dr. Moussa has been the ISA's Finance Manager. Id. at 87.

21. If ISA employees exceed their allotted leave, Dr. Moussa deducts that from their salaries. 5/25/11 Tr. at 94. In order to deduct the appropriate amount, Dr. Moussa divides the employee's salary by 194, the number of hours worked in a year, and then by 8, the number of hours worked in a day, to determine that employee's hourly rate. Id. at 95.

1997

22. Plaintiff began working for the ISA during the 1997-1998 academic year as a full time substitute teacher. 5/23/11 Tr. at 14. At that time, she taught Islamic studies in Arabic at the 7th grade level. Id. Plaintiff then left the ISA for two years. Id.

2000

23. Plaintiff returned to the ISA as a full time elementary school teacher in the Girls' School in September of 2000. [#20-2] ¶ 17; 5/23/11 Tr. at 14. She again taught Islamic studies, but this time at the 3rd through 6th grade levels. 5/23/11 Tr. at 14-15.

24. In the 2000-2001 academic year, plaintiff taught Islamic studies in the 2nd through 3rd and 5th through 6th grade levels in the Girls' School. 5/23/11 Tr. at 15. This same schedule continued until 2007, when she was given one class in the Boys' School. Id. at 16.

2001

25. On April 27, 2001, Mr. Sulaiman Al-Fraih, the ISA's Director General, sent plaintiff a contract offer for the 2001-2002 academic year at a salary of $37,738.00 for 195-199 working days. PEX 2 at 8.

2002

26. On April 12, 2002, Mr. Ibrahim Al-Gosair, the ISA's Director General, sent plaintiff a contract offer for the 2002-2003 academic year at a salary of $39,127.00 for 194-200 working days. PEX 2 at 9.

27. On September 1, 2002, plaintiff signed an "Annual Form Contract With ISA Personnel" for the 2002-2003 academic year at a salary of $39,127.00 for 194-200 working days. PEX 2 at 1.

2003

28. On April 14, 2003, Nawal Saleh al-Muhaymed*fn3 wrote a letter to plaintiff noting her "lack of cooperation with the Administration [and] with the Department's head" and noting further that her contract "stipulates that [she] carry our any activity that is assigned to [her] by the Administration of the Department's head." JEX 50 at 1; 5/23/11 Tr. at 153-54.

29. On May 1, 2003, Mr. Al-Gosair sent plaintiff a contract offer for the 2002-2003 academic year at a salary of $40,516.00 for 194-200 working days. PEX 2 at 10.

30. On June 20, 2003, plaintiff signed an "Annual Form Contract With ISA Personnel" for the 2003-2004 academic year at a salary of $40,516.00 for 194-200 working days. PEX 2 at 2-3.

31. On June 21, 2004, plaintiff signed an "Annual Form Contract With ISA Personnel" for the 2004-2005 academic year at a salary of $41,905.00 for 200 working days. PEX 2 at 4.

2005

32. On May 6, 2005, Mr. Abdalla Al-Shabnan,*fn4 the ISA's Director General, sent plaintiff a contract offer for the 2005-2006 academic year at a salary of $43,294.00 for 200 working days. PEX 2 at 11.

33. On or about the end of 2005, the ISA established an ASL department. 5/25/11 Tr. at 213; 5/26/11 Tr. at 6. The ISA hired Ms. Vera Blake to teach the teachers how to differentiate instruction between the ASL and ESL populations. 5/25/11 Tr. at 214; 5/26/11 Tr. at 6. Plaintiff received this training. Id. at 7.

2006

34. On May 8, 2006, Mr. Al-Shabnan sent plaintiff a contract offer for the 2006-2007 academic year at a salary of $44,683.00 for 200 working days. PEX 2 at 12.

35. On June 23, 2006, plaintiff signed an "Annual Form Contract With ISA Personnel" for the 2006-2007 academic year at a salary of $44,683.00 for 200 working days. PEX 2 at 5.

36. In 2006, plaintiff was given nine girls to teach ASL. 5/23/11 Tr. at 52. Plaintiff discussed with her coordinator her view that she couldn't effectively teach these students because they didn't speak any Arabic. Id. at 53.

37. On October 30, 2006, plaintiff wrote a letter to Ms. Nadia Yousef,*fn5 Personnel Manager, resigning from her position as a 3rd and 4th grade Islamic Education teacher at the Girls' School, effective that same day. JEX 3 at 1; PEX 13 at 1. Plaintiff further stated that she would continue to fulfill her duties until November 30, 2006. Id.

38. On November 15, 2006, the ISA issued an Administrative Order acknowledging plaintiff's resignation and deeming it effective as of December 8, 2006. PEX 13 at 3.

39. On December 6, 2006, plaintiff wrote Ms. Faridah Turkistani, Girls' School Principal, and Ms. Yousef a letter rescinding her previous resignation. PEX 13 at 5.

40. Ms. Turkistani began working at the ISA in 2001. 5/26/11 Tr. at 17. Two years later, she was promoted to Vice Principal of the Girls' School. Id. at 207-08. One year later, she was promoted to Principal of the Girls' School. Id. at 208. She is a United States citizen of Saudi national origin. Id. at 47.

2007

41. In May of 2007, plaintiff had a discussion with Ms. Amal Rajab, an instructor at the Department of Arabic as a Second Language, who had posted the grades for plaintiff's students. 5/23/11 Tr. at 158. Plaintiff told Ms. Rajab that she did agree with the grades that were given. Id.

42. Later that month, Ms. Rajab wrote a letter to Dr. Ibrahim al-Sakaji,*fn6 Head of the Department of Arabic as a Second Language, stating that plaintiff had spoken to her in an "inappropriate manner" regarding the grades Ms. Rajab had given her female students. JEX 2 at 1; 5/26/11 Tr. at 148-49. Dr. Sakaji discussed the issue with plaintiff in front of Ms. Turkistani. 5/23/11 Tr. at 158-59.

43. Dr. al-Sakaji began working at the ISA in 1984. 5/26/11 Tr. at 56. Prior to becoming the ASL Department Head, he taught Islamic Studies. Id. at 57. He is originally from Jordan. Id. at 66.

44. On May 11, 2007, Mr. Al-Shabnan sent plaintiff a contract offer for the 2007-2008 academic year at a salary of $49,597.00 for 200 working days. PEX 2 at 13.

45. On June 28, 2007, plaintiff signed an "Annual Form Contract With ISA Personnel" for the 2007-2008 academic year at a salary of $49,597.00 for 200 working days. PEX 2 at 6.

46. On June 28, 2007, Ms. Turkistani wrote plaintiff a letter stating that she had concerns with plaintiff's performance as a 3rd and 4th grade Islamic teacher. JEX 4 at 1; PEX 16 at 1. She further stated that several parents had complained that she was too tough with her students, id., and that she had refused to meet with them or return their phone calls. 5/23/11 Tr. at 176. According to Ms. Salwa Linjawi, Vice Principal of the Girls' School, a group of parents came to her office complaining that plaintiff hadn't returned her phone calls but when Ms. Linjawi called plaintiff, she refused to come meet with the parents. 5/24/11 Tr. at 216-17.

47. Ms. Linjawi is originally from Saudi Arabia. 5/24/11 Tr. at 198. She has worked at the ISA since 2003. Id. Prior to becoming the Girls' School Vice Principal in 2005, she was a social studies teacher. Id. at 199, 203. As Vice Principal, she has responsibility over grades 7-12 in the Girls' School. Id. at 214.

48. On June 29, 2007, plaintiff responded to Ms. Turkistani's June 28, 2007, letter by refuting each of the allegations. PEX 16 at 2-3.

49. On August 31, 2007, plaintiff wrote a note to Dr. Dawood Abdul Rahman [al-Ghofaili],*fn7 Head of the Islamic Education Department, stating that she could not teach the classes that had been assigned to her because there were too many students and because there were different educational levels in her class in addition to ASL. JEX 1 at 5. See 5/23/11 Tr. at 168-69.

50. In September of 2007,*fn8 Dr. al-Ghofaili sent a letter to Mr. Al-Shabnan indicating that he had informed the female teachers about the proposed coverage of the Islamic education class at the Boys' School and that one of the teachers had agreed to it while another [plaintiff] had objected. JEX 1 at 1.

51. On September 27, 2007, Dr. al-Ghofaili issued an Administrative Decision assigning plaintiff and another individual the task of teaching Islamic Studies to the 3rd grade boys, effective September 28, 2007. PEX 11 at 1; 5/23/11 Tr. at 174.

52. On October 1, 2007, Dr. al-Ghofaili wrote plaintiff a note warning her that refusal to teach Islamic Education at the 3rd grade level in the Boys' School was a violation of the ...


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