Two former Texas A&M University researchers allege colleagues threw animal feces and urine on their prayer rug and routinely mocked and mistreated them because they are Muslims from Iraq, according to a federal lawsuit.
Married doctors Mundhir Ridha and Saeeda Ali Muhsen sued the university, several A&M divisions and five former co-workers for discrimination and retaliation. They are seeking unspecified monetary damages.
Texas A&M spokesman Lane Stephenson said he cannot discuss pending litigation specifically but that he could "categorically state it's the university's policy not to discriminate against anyone."
The couple, who specialize in in-vitro fertilization, conducted research at the reproductive sciences lab at A&M. They fled Baghdad about four years ago and moved to the U.S. to avoid persecution for their work.
"The folks at A&M treated them horribly because they looked different, ate different food and spoke differently and because they are from Iraq and Muslim," the couple's lawyer, Shane McClelland, was quoted as saying in Friday's online editions of the Houston Chronicle.
McClelland alleges an investigation by the university revealed a hostile work environment in which harsh, abrasive and insensitive criticism were tolerated, but that the school chose not to address it.
Ridha, who had worked at A&M for about three years, was fired after complaining in 2007, the lawsuit says. Muhsen's contract was not renewed in 2008, according to the lawsuit. She had done sabbatical research for about two years and worked for the university for about six months. A pretrial conference is scheduled for January.