A former recruit for the Memphis Police Department has filed a lawsuit against the City of Memphis and Mayor Jim Strickland, alleging that his training was terminated because of his religion.
Tareq Elkhayyat, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, said in the lawsuit that he had been questioned numerous times about his faith and asked if he had any connections to extremist groups, according to The Commercial Appeal. Although Elkhayyat passed a background check and began his training in August 2015, he claimed that he was viewed with suspicion and asked about photos that his cousin had posted on Facebook, which the police training academy thought may indicate ties to the Islamic State.
"Thereafter, Mr. Elkhayyat was pulled out of training repeatedly and questioned about his religion, terrorist groups, his association with his cousin," Elkhayyat’s attorneys wrote, according to The Commercial Appeal.
Elkhayyat’s cousin shared photos of people and buildings with Arabic script, including the Muslim profession of faith: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is God's messenger." In Elkhayyat’s internal file, these were labeled as connected to "ISIS/Jihad," although experts on Islam such as Dr. John Kaltner, a professor of Muslim-Christian relations at Rhodes College, explain that nothing concretely ties these pictures to extremist Islamic movements.
“[It] sounds to me like they're trying to make a link with Islamic terrorism that's a real stretch," Kaltner told The Commercial Appeal.
In the lawsuit, Elkhayyat’s attorneys wrote that he was suing for “alleged violations of MPD policies, including its social media policy, which other cadets and officers violated without repercussion.”
"The only difference was Mr. Elkhayyat’s race, religion and association with family members,” his attorneys wrote, according to The Commercial Appeal.
Elkhayyat’s lawsuit asks for his reinstatement as a recruit, which is a paid position, as well as back pay and lost benefits. It also demands an injunction against Strickland to prohibit discriminatory employment practices from occurring in the future.
Memphis Police Interim Director Michael Rallings explained that the MPD cannot comment on open litigation, according to FOX13. However, he stated that part of the reason for Elkhayyat’s firing included pictures he had posted on social media of himself holding a weapon, which went against MPD’s policy for its recruits.
"All employers are looking at your social media and people need to be careful about things that they post and things they say that can be racist or extremist," Rallings told FOX13.