Former Phila. City Council aide sues over alleged religious discrimination

Jon Campisi Dec. 16, 2011, 8:13pm

A former aide to Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the City of Philadelphia and City Council, alleging she was discriminated against because of her religion.

In her civil action, filed Dec. 13 at federal court in Philadelphia by Penndel, Pa. attorneys Timothy M. Kolman, Wayne A. Ely, Eman Abouelseoud and Lalena J. Turchi, Tyeisha Boulware, who worked as a special assistant to Blackwell, claims her former boss discriminated against her because of her Jehovah’s Witness beliefs.

Boulware, who worked for City Council from Feb. 19, 2008 until Jan. 4 of this year, claims the discrimination began after the April 2008 primary election.

Blackwell asked if Boulware had voted, to which the plaintiff explained she doesn’t vote due to her religious beliefs, according to the lawsuit.

Blackwell, who is a Baptist, responded by saying she did not understand Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The same conversation occurred after the general election in November of that year, the suit claims.

The suit also claims that during staff meetings, Blackwell would often make comments criticizing Boulware’s religious beliefs, and that anytime Boulware attempted to offer Blackwell explanations in response to the councilwoman’s inquiries, Blackwell would state, “Plaintiff had an excuse for everything,” according to the complaint.

During the May 2010 primary election, the suit goes on to state, Boulware informed Blackwell that she could not stay at work late due to a prior religious engagement. This infuriated Blackwell, who again asked if Boulware had voted. Again, the plaintiff responded with “no,” according to the lawsuit.

“During a staff meeting the following day, Blackwell stated that one of the Ward Leaders made Blackwell very angry for giving up his elected position after years of service to become a Jehovah’s Witness,” the lawsuit states. “Blackwell then proceeded to say, ‘I swear, I do not understand that religion!’”

Then, in December of last year, Blackwell accused the plaintiff of not volunteering for community events, possibly because of her religion. Later in the month, Blackwell hosted a holiday party in which she had asked her staffers to wear Christmas shirts, and when Boulware informed her boss she wouldn’t be wearing the item of clothing due to religious beliefs, the councilwoman stated, “this is not going to work,” the lawsuit states.

Blackwell then whispered something to someone identified as Sandy Hayes, who is a nonparty to the suit, after which Hayes allegedly told Boulware, “If you don’t put the shirt on, this is going to be your job,” the suit states.

From late December through early January, Boulware was out on sick leave. When she returned with a doctor’s note, suit alleges, she was told by her boss: “This is not going to work. I need you to come in tomorrow and take the rest of the week off and all of the following week off and you can file for your unemployment.”

Shortly thereafter, the suit alleges, Boulware received a letter from Blackwell informing her that the plaintiff’s job position was eliminated.

The lawsuit accuses the city councilwoman of unlawful religious discrimination.

Boulware seeks to have the defendants permanently enjoined from carrying out religious discrimination and retaliation. She also seeks front and back pay, job reinstatement, actual damages along with damages for pain, suffering and humiliation, unspecified punitive damages, reimbursement of legal expenses and injunctive relief.

Boulware seeks a trial by jury.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-07627-JHS.

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