Posted on October 26, 2022

A New Jersey Teacher Accused of Removing a Student’s Hijab Sues Olympic Fencer and Others

Jalen Brown and Laura Ly, CNN, October 24, 2022

A New Jersey elementary school teacher is suing Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad for viral social media posts made last year accusing her of forcibly removing a student’s hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women and girls.

The defamation lawsuit filed on Oct. 5 accuses the American fencer and other defendants of “categorically false allegations of bigotry, child abuse, and gross pedagogical misconduct.”

It further alleges that teacher Tamar Herman’s life and reputation were irreparably harmed by the “flood of interest and outrage” caused by Muhammad’s nearly identical Instagram and Facebook posts, both describing a tug-of-war scenario between Herman and the second-grade student, in which Herman was accused of trying to remove the hijab while the student held onto it.

{snip} In her suit, Herman says that she thought the student’s hijab was a hood over her normally close-fitting hijab and only gently brushed it back from covering the student’s eyes. Once she realized the garment was a hijab, her lawsuit states she quickly apologized and “restored the hood to its original position immediately.” {snip}

The suit also accuses the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group, as well as the group’s New Jersey affiliate and the affiliate’s deputy executive director, of amplifying the matter through multiple calls for Herman’s termination, which were never retracted or withdrawn, and says the group was “motivated by a combination of greed and a fierce desire to burnish their brands as fighters against Islamophobia.”


The lawsuit comes a few weeks after the Superior Court of New Jersey dismissed the student’s parents’ religious discrimination lawsuit against Herman and the South Orange Maplewood School District (SOMSD) Board of Education on procedural grounds. {snip}


The lawsuit alleges that Herman was subject to virulent antisemitism once the student’s mother went to Facebook, accusing the teacher of removing her child’s hijab because of her Jewish identity. Herman is also suing the SOMSD, alleging they were complicit in this “relentless discriminatory treatment” by not defending her against these online attacks and instead placing her on administrative leave.

The school’s subsequent attempts to educate the community on Islamophobia with fact sheets and anti-bias training were seen by Herman as defaming her by tacitly endorsing the allegations {snip}

Herman asked the local Police Department for protection but eventually “had no realistic choice but to permanently move out of her home” of 27 years in the aftermath of the incident and social media backlash, according to the lawsuit. {snip}