ACLU Praises Government’s Reinstatement of Iranian Couple

December 18, 2006

CONTACT: Andrew Schneider, ACLU (304) 345-9246; Alan Karlin, Lead Counsel (304)  296-8266

MORGANTOWN, WV -- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) today praised a settlement agreement in which the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reinstated an Iranian Muslim couple who had been summarily terminated from their positions at the NIOSH office in Morgantown. Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari will receive back pay and benefits as well as damages to compensate them for the loss of income, humiliation, and emotional distress they suffered as a result of the terminations. 

In letters to each of the Afsharis, NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard rescinded the terminations. Howard acknowledged that the Afsharis were excellent employees and valuable members of the NIOSH team.

The terminations took place on May 5, 2004, when the Afsharis were escorted from the NIOSH facility shortly after they reported to work. The only explanation they ever received was that they had failed to pass a required background investigation. When they asked about the basis for the decision, they were told the information was classified. Their lawsuit alleged that they were terminated without due process and because of their religion and/or their Iranian nationality.

“This case illustrates what can happen when government attempts to hide behind a veil of secrecy,” said Andrew Schneider, ACLU of West Virginia executive director. “Without transparency, public officials cannot be held accountable when they violate fundamental rights.” 

“This is a tribute to the Afsharis and to their friends in Morgantown who stood by them through these difficult times,” said Allan Karlin, the ACLU cooperating attorney who is the lead counsel in the case. “It should be a lesson to every American that our government can and does make mistakes that cause great harm to wonderful people. But it is also a lesson that in the United States justice can still prevail.”

Aliakbar Afshari, who has a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering, will be reinstated to his position as a Senior Service Fellow in the Health Effects Laboratory Division at the NIOSH facility in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he has worked in various capacities since 1995. Before the terminations, Shahla Afshari had been an Associate Service Fellow in the same division of NIOSH since 1997. She is now attending dental school at West Virginia University. They have lived in the United States since 1986. Both the Afsharis are lawful permanent residents of the United States, as are two of their three children. Their youngest child is a U.S. citizen. Naturalization applications are pending for the Afsharis and the other children.

In addition to Karlin, attorneys in the case are Robert M. Bastress, Jr., James J. Friedberg, and Sophie Zdatny of Morgantown; ACLU of the National Capital Area Legal Director Arthur Spitzer; and ACLU of West Virginia Legal Director Terri Baur.

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