Lawsuit by Moroccan-American Muslim Accuses Police of Bias in Hiring


Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Said Hajem says that a police officer reviewing his application told him, “You may be a terrorist.”

As the New York Police Department has initiated and expanded counterterrorism efforts in foreign countries over the last several years, it has also aggressively tried to recruit speakers of Arabic and other languages of countries where Islam holds sway.

But a Moroccan immigrant who applied to become a police officer as a result of those efforts is suing the department, charging that he was not hired because he was a Muslim and was born outside the United States.

Lawyers for the city filed a motion asking that his claim be dismissed, but on Jan. 29, Judge Richard J. Sullivan of United States District Court in Manhattan ruled that there was enough evidence for the suit to proceed.

The immigrant, Said Hajem, took the police exam in February 2006 and said he scored 85.6, well above the passing grade. That June he received a letter of congratulations from Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly and began preparing to enter the Police Academy. Mr. Hajem said he had even decided to delay his wedding, hoping to get married as a police officer.

“I started dreaming of becoming one of the Finest,” Mr. Hajem, 39, said last month, as he sat in his lawyer’s office on lower Broadway, “an important person who is going to save lives and stop terrorism.”

Now those hopes seem remote. It has been four years since Mr. Hajem passed the exam, but his application has been suspended in bureaucratic limbo.

Mr. Hajem, who said he became an American citizen in early 2006, said the hiring process faltered for him in July 2006 when an officer reviewing his paperwork, Ricardo Ramkissoon, told him that he disapproved of people from “other countries” joining the department.

Mr. Hajem added that Officer Ramkissoon had also rejected references he had provided from people with Middle Eastern names. “He told me, ‘I need American names,’ ” Mr. Hajem said. “He said, ‘You may be a terrorist.’ ”

Mr. Hajem’s lawsuit said he had been subjected to discrimination that violated his constitutional rights.

In response, a lawyer for the city, Jessica Miller of the Law Department, said in a statement: “We expect to prevail at trial.”

Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, declined to specifically address the statements that Mr. Hajem attributed to Officer Ramkissoon, but said in an e-mail message that “the allegations fly in the face of the N.Y.P.D.’s well-established record of outreach and hiring” of recruits from countries like Turkey, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which all are mainly Muslim nations.

“We have actively and successfully recruited native speakers of Urdu, Farsi, Arabic, Pashto and other languages,” Mr. Browne wrote. “Our linguist program is the envy of law enforcement worldwide.”

Mr. Hajem’s lawyer, David B. Rankin, did not contest the department’s claims of diversity. He contended, however, that Officer Ramkissoon had sabotaged Mr. Hajem’s application by giving misleading and false information to superiors.

On a department form dated July 2006, Officer Ramkissoon presented several reasons not to hire Mr. Hajem, including that he had not disclosed a summons received while he was working as a livery driver, and that he had engaged in “tax evasion” from 2001 to 2005.

In court papers, Mr. Hajem included Internal Revenue Service documents; he said that he had earlier provided them to Officer Ramkissoon and that they showed he had paid the proper amounts in taxes.

And Mr. Hajem said the summons, issued for picking up a passenger who hailed him from the sidewalk, was dismissed when he went to court.

Officer Ramkissoon did not respond to a request for comment.


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