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Local Man Charges He Was Fired For His Faith

By Joyce Gramza


Oswego, NY – Jeffrey Davis believes that his Muslim faith is the reason he was fired in July 2010.

"I think because an area as small as Pulaski, that they're not used to, or they don't involve themselves in, trying to understand the requirements that other faiths have," Davis says.

And it's not just Islam, it could be someone Jewish or Hindu or anything else."

Davis was hired by Northern Oswego County Health Services in January, 2010, as a health information technology specialist for the Pulaski Health Center.

He claims he got plenty of praise about his performance, as described by physician Miriam Ragab.

"He is a very kind person who supported his staff to the utmost and he did everything we needed to do, he could sense our need before we could even sense it and he got the computer system up and running in this place," Ragab says.

Davis says when he was hired, the health center had no knowledge of his religion. But he says he was able to work out a verbal arrangement with his supervisor to accommodate time for religious observances by taking an hour lunch.

Davis says that entailed coming in early or leaving late to clock in his full workweek, something he claims was not unusual.

"Anyone who wanted to take a break from their work station, whether it was smoking or just getting a breath of fresh air, they weren't required to go to the time clock," says Davis. "So they would take their two or three breaks a day, no questions asked."

But Davis says another administrator singled him out for scrutiny over his lunch hour and chided him for casual references to his faith, such as when a co-worker asked why he was growing facial hair.

Davis complained in writing.

"I sent an email and stated what had happened and about the discrimination that I was receiving, and that complaint in turn was forwarded to the person the complaint was against," he says. "So immediately after that is when things started happening."

What happened, according to Davis' termination document, was a write-up in June for not adhering to his work schedule, quickly followed by another for rudeness to an employee.

Still, Davis contends he had no idea he might be fired as he prepared for a major religious holiday in July.

"In the month of Sha'ban, prior to getting ready to fast for Ramadan, the prophet Mohammed would engage in fasting as preparation for that. So every good Muslim, that's something that we do," Davis explains.

Davis says that's when physician Ragab, the center's other Muslim employee, noted that he had gone without food or water for 18 hours.

"July 28th was what we term in Islam something called nus Sha'ban," Ragab says. "It's a holy day of obligation for Muslims that we fast from the beginning of sunrise until the sunset and on that particular day July 28, sunset was at 8:31."

His schedule had been shifted because of a computer upgrade from his 8:00 to 4:00 normal schedule to 12:00 to 8:30. At 4:30 he had again told his boss verbally that he would not be eating because we were fasting for this observation and when it came time to break fast at 8:31, his schedule was ending at 8:30."

And I came over to the office with dates and water for him to eat because he had no food with him. And sent him outside the building to go and spend five minutes to get some sugar into his systems because he thought he would be working until midnight on this computer upgrade."

So I was actually the one that said, You need to leave the building and take five minutes and go eat some food and break the fast, that's your obligation,' and, you know, I'm telling you to leave the building. I'm your physician supervisor and I'm your provider and I'm telling you to leave the building,'" she says.

Davis says he took that five minutes to break his fast without clocking out, then returned and completed his duties.

He claims the incident was not mentioned when he was fired the following day.

"And the worst part from that," Davis says, "is as I had packed my belongings, went to my car, went to call my wife to let her know what happened, their personnel told me if I didn't leave their parking lot that they would call the police and have me escorted away."

Davis says he then received unemployment benefits for five weeks.

"And I received a letter from the unemployment division stating that I had to pay them back all the monies that I received in respect to that I was discharged for taking an unauthorized break on that day. And that's what it was in conjunction to it actually stated the date that I took that break when I was fasting."

Davis says he tried for six months to quietly negotiate before filing a formal complaint of religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Northern Oswego County Health Services, Inc.

Davis' attorney says they filed the EEOC complaint reluctantly because it could jeopardize the facility's federal funding.

"We wanted to give them ample opportunity to make amends and make things right, and it appears that they didn't want that," Davis says.

The company's CEO, Daniel T. Dey, as well as its attorney, say they, and anyone affiliated with the center, can not comment on personnel matters, or on any related issues.

But Dey sent us a written statement affirming that Northern Oswego County Health Service, Inc. is an equal opportunity employer.

Dey's statement says Davis' "allegations regarding the reasons for his termination are not factually accurate" and that the termination was "legitimate and resulted from his own misconduct."

It says the company has not yet received any formal notice of discrimination charges, but says in that event, NOCHSI "will vigorously defend its actions."

In the meantime, Ragab, who has long been the face of the health center's advertising and web pages, decided to make Davis' firing a term of her contract renewal.

"Not necessarily reinstating him, but resolving the issues at hand," she says.

Because his unemployment had been revoked and some really seedy things had been done that were not deserved and made it hard for him to find employment. Not necessarily reinstating him-- that would have been ideal-- but resolving the issue at hand, even if it was just giving him back pay and severance or whatever, for having been let go," says Ragab.

Osteopathic physician Ragab has been a provider there for 13 years. Her demand was declined and her contract was not renewed.

Ragab says she oversees more than two thousand patients and that some are distraught by the news that she's leaving.

"It just didn't need to happen, it was needless," Ragab says.

It didn't have to happen. We need to be fair and we need to follow rules that are set up. And it just didn't have to happen. It's just unfortunate, that's all."

Davis' attorney says the EEOC complaint is a required first step to filing a lawsuit.

Davis says, "I think that's the importance, is that they change their policies and welcome other faiths and welcome other kinds of people."

Meanwhile, Davis continues applying for jobs as far away as Virginia. But with a wife and six children, he's holding out hope of not having to move from their Watertown home.

"I'm not receiving unemployment and that makes it very hard in paying everything and I think, but the faith keeps you strong. So just having the faith that something good will turn up, you know, that it's going to be a better year," he says.

Ragab's contract expires on March 31. She says she is looking into setting up her own practice.