Desert Rose

Workplace Discrimination
Wendy Ghannam 9826 Sweet Mint Drive, Vienna, VA 22181
Hello everyone, please read the following and feel free to publish and circulate this story.

Her Marriage to a Muslim Cost her a US Government Career, and Now She Fights a Legal War
By Ramzy Baroud/Wendy Ghannam

Though the passing of the Anti Terrorism Act in 1995 was in response to the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building by Caucasian Americans, Arabs and Muslims have been a nearly exclusive prey to the terror-phobia that has swept the US thereafter. But the anti-Muslim policy that has been initiated since then (and following the events on Sept. 11th), reaching its highest points of injustice with the Secret Evidence Act, is not touching only Arabs and Muslims, but also those associated with them, individuals like Wendy Ghannam. Ghannam, who was born and raised in New York State and who currently resides in one of the suburbs of Washington D.C., is an American-born woman whose dedication and hard work rewarded her with a respected job in a place that she always pledged loyalty. In 1988, after years in US government civil service jobs, she began her final career move with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Her credentials as a good and productive employee can be best observed through the evolvement of her positions within the agency, as she worked her way up to human resources and personnel. But even such a shiny resume was barely enough to protect Ghannam from a fate that she could have never anticipated. In the mid 1990s, Ghannam was subjected to a "ruthless and vagarious investigation," she has told various media outlets, including Although the investigation was routine, and often conducted when one remains with USAID for over five years, for Ghannam the investigation was quite different, and the nature of the questions asked was simply shocking.

First, Ghannam was called onto the Agency's Inspector Generalís (Jeffery Rush at the time) office so the routine check could be completed, or so she assumed. But the short session turned into days of intense interrogations and subsequent harassment. "We have a problem with you Wendy. Your husband is a Palestinian Arab," stated one of Rush's office security investigators, whose name she preferred keeping anonymous due to the nature of her continuing case against the Agency. Dismayed by his remarks, Ghannam replied, "I have been married to him for 25 years, and there has never been a problem." However the investigatorís reply came quick and sure, "you are the only one working in this agency who is married to a Palestinian," adding, "I am gonna be honest with you, Wendy, they (upper Agency management) just don't want you here." The investigation continued with more vicious questioning concerning her reasons for marrying a Muslim, whether her husband attended the mosque regularly and if his Zakaat (charity) money went to the Islamic movement, Hamas. Yet the end of what seemed like a never-ending interrogation was not the end of the nightmare, says Ghannam. "I was constantly watched.

My computer was looked at," Ghannam relates. Even her supervisor became actively involved in the 2 1/2 years of ongoing harassment, following the IG investigation. "How could you be married to an Arab? How could you go to bed with an Arab?" When asked, .Ghannam illustrated a small portion of harassing questions that she was asked by her supervisor and IG personnel as well. In 1996, Wendy Ghannam was fired from her job at USAID. She was told that she was a "surplus." Ghannam now reflects that her grievances with the agency began even earlier--as she was battling for her rights as a working woman with a disability (carpal tunnel). Her case, which was handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has since rendered her re-instatement back into her job, which the Agency refuses to acknowledge. While awaiting her first case to end, she decided to pay a visit to Jeffery Rush himself. Rush's response to her concerns contained little sympathy according to Ghannam. "If you make a stink about any of this, you'll regret the day you ever came here," Rush screamed at Ghannam, who was accompanied by a friend. "I will personally see to it that you're ground down into a pulp, like the cement sidewalk outside, and you'll never get up again," Ghannam was warned. Repeated requests for Rush's statements' authenticity by and other media sources attempting to get his side of the story, failed and no one could ever get a hold of him. Constant attempts to learn of USAID's stand on the issue were little successful either. The only reply we received was from the Office of General Counsel (USAID's lawyers), Mr. Jan Peters.

Peters, who represented the agency in the case told us that to protect the secrecy of the case, he would rather not comment. Now, Ghannam is fighting a massive legal battle to attain rights that she was denied for simply being married to an Arab Muslim, who was orignally born in Palestine. Her legal fight is probably the boldest of its kind since it earmarks a combination of three employment claims, which were eventually combined by a federal judge, who ruled positively on their allegations and merits. The lawsuit is against USAID for ongoing discrimination and mistreatment, while mentioning Rush for his verbal abuse and threats while Ghannam sought Whistleblower Protection. She is also alleging disparate impact, as well as retaliation/reprisal for the agency's continued refusal to re-instate her to her prior federal career, despite an EEOC mandated directive to do so. Ghannam's legal battle still rages, as she has recently discovered that the EEOC must have complete involvement at this time, and the womanís determination to continue parallels a tremendous long dispute against one of the richest and most influential US agencies, and seems nowhere near closure. But Wendy Ghannam's case is by no means an exclusive and an isolated incident, at the federal USAID level or at any national level. Arab and Muslim Americans continue to be targeted and perceived with suspicious eyes, as religious discrimination, followed by unrelentless ethnicity discrimination following the events of Sept. 11 continue to grip the country today. The workplace remains one of the Muslim community's greatest concerns in America. "Most definitely, if you are an Arab or Muslim American, all documents and records about your life are closely reviewed and scrutinized by the U.S. government," declares Ghannam from an expert's position. She concluded our interview with a word of advice, "watch your back," she passionately exclaimed.

2002-08-17 Sat 18:20ct