Lawyers at Texas A&M want a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims Aggie scientists harassed an Iraqi researcher and his wife.
A&M lawyers aren’t saying the scientists didn’t harass Dr. Mundhir Ridha, only that Texas A&M should be exempt from litigation because it's a public institution. In fact, after Ridha filed his initial grievance, the university’s internal investigation found that there was a “draconian approach” to supervision in the lab.
“The environment…is such that the accusation that you were occasionally the target of 'behind-your-back' ridicule is credible,” wrote Karan Watson, an associate provost at A&M.
Unfortunately for Ridha, the university also ruled that he fabricated pictures that were evidence of the harassment. The university also ruled that A&M scientists didn’t discriminate against Ridha when he was fired.
Ridha worked in Saddam Hussein’s government as a scientist working on cloning and in-vitro fertilization. Hussein didn’t support Ridha's work, Sevcik says, but he liked having an internationally renowned scientist under his rule. When Hussein fell, Sevcik fled the country. Texas A&M researches cloning for the agricultural field, so Ridha was a good fit.
“Because of his international reputation, having a guy like Dr. Ridha on your staff is quite a coup,” says Miranda Sevick, a representative for the lawyer representing Ridha. “But the minute he got there, people were giving him the cold shoulder, once they found out he was Iraqi.”
While at A&M, Ridha and his wife were working to create a male contraception pill. His goal was to build a facility in College Station that would serve as a family-reproductive-services clinic.
The lawsuit against A&M claims, among other things:
A scientist threw animal urine and feces on a holy prayer rug belonging to Ridha and his wife, and students were encourage to ridicule Ridha when he prayed.
Scientists humiliated Ridha’s wife, making “loud turkey-bird sounds or battle cries – called a halhoolah…”
Scientists implied that Ridha and his wife were dirty and had poor hygiene, and denigrated their ability as lab scientists.
The lawsuit claims that Ridha was fired from A&M as retaliation for his complaints about the preceding incidents.
“He still can’t get a job, because these guys refuse to give him a letter of reference. These guys are so angry at him for complaining that they still won’t give him this letter,” Sevcik says. “He’s almost completely over-qualified for anything else. In the realm of work he’s doing, he can’t get any other jobs. But he couldn’t leave, but he would’ve been sent back to Iraq and his life could have ended out there.”
-- Paul Knight
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.