A former Mississippi State University visiting professor is suing the university for discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zahra Torghabeh, a former professor in the building construction science program at MSU, filed a lawsuit against MSU Dec. 3 claiming she was not allowed to teach her course of study during fall 2020 and spring 2021 as an online or hybrid course.
The complaint claims that during August and December 2020 Zahra, who is from Iran, made several complaints to BCS Director George Ford regarding the hazardous and unsafe conditions of the classrooms she was teaching in related to COVID-19. These classrooms had poor ventilation, the lawsuit read, and students were unable to maintain less than two feet of distance between each other due to the small size of the rooms and the high number of students enrolled.
Torghabeh requested to teach her fall 2020 course remotely, but claims she was denied this option while other professors in the department, who were all white, were allowed to teach their courses online. In spring 2021, she was again denied her requests to teach her class online when other white professors were allowed to.
Torghabeh met with Ford, BCS Dean Angi Elsea Bourgeois and two human resources personnel to further discuss her complaints regarding unsafe conditions and to request an accommodation to teach her classes online. The lawsuit says no suggestions were given to address her safety concerns, and she was told she must continue teaching in-person.
On Jan. 15, Torghabeh received a letter from Ford informing her that he had made the determination it was in the best interest of MSU to terminate her employment, effective that day. No reason was given as to why she lost her job.
Torghabeh signed a contract with the university in August 2020 stating she could not be terminated during her contract term unless the contract provides for such termination rights and follows one of the written reasons as to why someone can be released from their job, which Torghabeh claims she was not given.
In the complaint, which is only one side of a legal argument, Torghabeh said that upon hearing this matter, she hopes a jury grants her relief items, including back wages, lost benefits and compensatory damages.
MSU Chief of Communications Sid Salter said the university would not comment on the matter while litigation is pending.
Torghabeh’s counsel Watson and Norris of Flowood did not respond to calls from The Dispatch before press time.