The family of “Clock Boy,” Ahmed Mohamed, has filed a lawsuit against his former Texas school district, the principal of the high school he used to attend, and the city of Irving, Texas. Readers will recall that young Mohamed was arrested for a short period of time after he brought a suspicious-looking homemade clock to class. School officials worried that it might be a bomb.
No charges were brought against Mohamed. However, he was suspended from school for three days. To my knowledge, the school hasn’t explained its reasons for suspending him. I assume this reticence is based on privacy considerations.
What’s the basis for Clock Boy’s lawsuit? According to the Washington Post:
Citing a pattern of disproportionate disciplinary actions for black students in the Irving Independent School District (ISD) and a history of anti-Muslim sentiment in Irving, the lawsuit alleges that Ahmed was discriminated against based on his race and religion. It also claims his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was interrogated by police and principal Daniel Cummings for over an hour without the presence of his parents before he was arrested.
I haven’t read the Complaint or researched some aspects of the applicable law. Therefore, although the suit has a frivolous feel to it, I won’t opine on its overall merits.
I can say that relying on a pattern of disproportionate disciplinary actions for black students in the school district should be a non-starter when it comes to proving that Mohamed was discriminated against. For one thing, Mohamed isn’t black. For another, he’s alleging intentional discrimination, but “disparate impact” is not a theory of intentional discrimination.
In appropriate cases, evidence of disparate impact may bolster a claim of intentional discrimination, but not where the disparate impact is against another minority group. To have any plausibility, Clock Boy’s underlying theory of the case will have to be animus towards Muslims — “Islamophobia,” if you will. Thus, the way the school district has treated non-Muslim blacks will be irrelevant.
I’m also interested in the damages claim. Reportedly, the Complaint doesn’t specify an amount. Previously, the family had threatened to sue for $15 million.
If Clock Boy was discriminated against or if his Fourth Amendment rights were violated, he may be entitled to some monetary relief. However, the way he has described his “suffering” should lead to comic, not legal, relief:
I lost a lot of things in my life,” Ahmed recently told The Washington Post. “The number one thing people think about me is that I’m living ‘the life’ . . . But I can’t build anymore. My dad doesn’t have a job anymore. I moved from my house to an apartment. I lost my place for building things. Over [in Qatar] it’s very boring, I can’t do anything. The only thing I can do is use the Internet.”
I have several questions. First, how much space does it take to take apart a clock and stick its workings in a suitcase with some wires.
Second, and more seriously, why is it the fault of the school district or the police that his father moved to Qatar? Sure, it must be boring there. But the police didn’t extradite him. The school district would have reinstated him after his three day suspension.
The fault for the move rests with Clock Boy’s father. Maybe the lad should sue him.
The family claims it moved because of “hate mail” and “death threats.” However, the Washington Post points out that when the family returned to Texas recently, the move “was heralded to reporters with a news release sent out by the family and its supporters: Clock Boy is back, and ready to be interviewed.” That’s not something one does if one is worried about hate mail and death threats.
Third, why is the fault of the school district or the police that his father doesn’t have a job anymore? If an employer has discriminated against the guy, sue the employer.
Fourth, will a jury be impressed with the family’s damages claim given all of the benefits he received as a result of this incident? Clock Boy himself told the Post, “the number one thing people think about me is that I’m living “the life.'”
As well they should. In the aftermath of this incident, he got to visit the White House and shake President Obama’s hand. In addition, he was invited to visit top American universities, toasted by the corporate giants such as Google and Facebook, and offered a scholarship by an international business school.
It’s not the fault of the school district of the police that Ahmed’s family responded to the opportunities opened up thanks to his “clock” by moving to “boring” Qatar.
Fifth, how will a potential claim for damages over the school suspension be affected by Ahmed’s statement at the time that “I’m transferring schools so it doesn’t matter.”
If Ahmed Mohamed is a victim, one senses he’s a victim of his father who, according to the Post, plans to run (for the third time) for president of Sudan and believes “the more Ahmed is seen, the better.”
It’s a sad story when you think about it, and one that doesn’t seem likely to be made happier by this lawsuit.
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