A former suburban police officer has filed a federal lawsuit alleging he was fired after he complained that he was constantly harassed for practicing his Muslim faith.
Ramtin Sabet, who was fired last month, said he was repeatedly called a terrorist by his co-workers at the North Chicago Police Department, told he was an “ISIS leader working as a police officer” and asked if he rode a goat to work, according to the lawsuit.
Sabet, an Iranian immigrant, is suing the city of North Chicago and its former and current police chiefs. He alleges that he complained both formally and informally to his supervisors but that they did nothing to deter or investigate his claims. Sabet joined the department in 2007 and later filed two separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination at work.
North Chicago officials denied that harassment or discrimination against Sabet occurred.
In a statement issued Friday, Police Chief Richard Wilson said the city embraces diversity.
“Officer Sabet was terminated for violations of police department rules and regulations,” Wilson said in the statement. “He has challenged that determination. The city plans to vigorously defend its decision.”
Sabet contends in the lawsuit that he was fired for complaining to the EEOC about what he called “severe and pervasive” discrimination and harassment that went on for years and included mocking of his religion, culture and food.
He said that North Chicago fostered a hostile work environment and treated him “less favorably” than co-workers and that he was denied training opportunities in a “deliberate effort” to keep him from being promoted because of his religion and ethnicity.
North Chicago officials responded in court records by saying that Sabet’s performance kept him from becoming a field training officer and attending supervisor school.
“It was like I was being hazed all the time,” Sabet said when speaking to reporters on Friday.
He said the officers, whom he considered his “brothers in blue,” told him he held his gun like a “terrorist Muslim.” He said they made derogatory comments about him in public and while dealing with suspects.
“I’m placing handcuffs on somebody, and they keep making fun of (me) all the way from the crime scene to the station as a result of my own officers making harassing comments towards me,” Sabet said.
Sabet, who has worked as a police officer for 15 years, pulled a colleague out of a fire and assisted others when they were injured or shot on the job, he said in a statement released by the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is representing him.
“We trust our police departments to keep us safe,” CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said. “We trust that they have moral fortitude that they should practice within their own departments, as well as with the citizens that they serve.”
Sabet filed his initial complaint with the EEOC in 2012, but he claimed his supervisors did not take the complaint seriously. Sabet alleged in the lawsuit that the police chief at the time, James Jackson, was asleep during the interview about the EEOC complaint.
Jackson could not immediately be reached for comment.
The harassment went on for years, Sabet claims. During a 2014 incident at a shooting range with fellow officers, Sabet alleged, officers told him that he was “so good at shooting” because he was teaching at al-Qaida camp in Iran.
Several of the religious slurs were made in the presence of his shift commander, according to the lawsuit. On two separate occasions in 2015 and 2016, the lawsuit alleged, an officer made remarks related to Muslims hating Jews, which Sabet said he denied.
Then, in February 2016, Sabet was called to a meeting with his supervisors and a city attorney. According to the lawsuit, Sabet thought they were going to address his complaints, but instead he was accused of making discriminatory comments against Jews, he said. When he denied ever making those remarks, he was told he would face “discipline and possible termination” for being “dishonest,” the lawsuit said. North Chicago officials confirmed the meeting in court records but denied Sabet’s allegations.
Sabet filed another EEOC complaint in 2016 and was granted a right to sue, according to the lawsuit. He was placed on administrative leave in early November 2016, which is when he filed the lawsuit, court records show.
Court records show Sabet, two other officers and the city of North Chicago were named in a 2013 lawsuit that alleged excessive force and malicious prosecution. The case was settled.
Sabet’s attorney, who said a “cultural intolerance” exists at the North Chicago police department, amended the lawsuit on Thursday to reflect what he called Sabet’s wrongful termination last month.
“We will no longer just sit back and tolerate it and wait for it to go away,” attorney Phillip Robertson said. “We’re going to take action on it because this is not the America that we know.”