Iranian-born scientist says Alabama university colleague tormented her

An Iran-born researcher claims a former University of Alabama employee in Birmingham harassed her and even threatened her with a gun for nine years because of her ethnicity, but the school did not stop the abuse despite complaining repeatedly.

Fariba Moeinpour.Courtesy Barrett and Farahany

The woman, Fariba Moeinpour, said in a state discrimination lawsuit filed in northern Alabama that Mary Jo Cagle, a data analyst at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, or UAB, mocked her for having a “strange” name , called her a “b —-” and repeatedly told her to “return to Iran”.

“Our country doesn’t need your kind,” said Cagle, alleging the lawsuit.

The abuse escalated over the years, Moeinpour said in the lawsuit alleging that Cagle almost ran a car over her and her daughter once and later pulled a gun at them “on the UAB parking deck while telling her this is what ‘we’ make with a ‘sand’ n —–. ‘”

Moeinpour said she had repeatedly complained about the harassment to UAB’s human resources department and to her and Cagle’s manager, Clinton Grubbs, over the nine-year period. Grubbs “initially dismissed her complaints and told her to focus on her work,” the lawsuit said. When he intervened, Grubbs told Moeinpour that Cagle had threatened him too, it said. Things came to a head on February 18, 2020 when Moeinpour was fired after a dispute with Grubbs over how to deal with Cagle escalated into violence, according to court documents.

In response to a series of questions about Moeinpour’s claims, UAB spokeswoman Alicia Rohan replied, “UAB does not comment on pending litigation.”

One woman who answered Cagle’s cell phone number said, “I’m not currently speaking to anyone.”

The lawsuit also named Kelly Mayer, UAB’s chief of staff relations, and the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, which oversee the state’s public university system. NBC News reached out to both of them. NBC News also left a message for Grubbs, who is not named as a defendant. At first it was not clear whether Grubbs was still working for UAB.

Moeinpour, 59, a US naturalized citizen who immigrated from Iran in 1989, said she has had difficulty finding another job since being fired and survived with the help of her daughter.

“What happened to me was horrible,” she said. “The abuse just went on and on and on and no one was going to help me, not Dr. Grubbs, not UAB, nobody. I had to endure everything because I’m a scientist and I needed this job because I have a daughter. “

Moeinpour, who had worked for another UAB researcher, joined Grubbs’ laboratory in February 2011 after finding evidence of data falsification and manipulation and reporting it to the Office of Research Integrity, an agency of the Federal Ministry of Health and Social Affairs Grace Starling, one of her attorneys at the Barrett & Farahany law firm in Atlanta.

The lawsuit alleged that Cagle Moeinpour started almost from the moment she started working for Grubbs at the UAB School of Medicine.

A UAB vice president was brought to the attention of a UAB vice president in 2012, according to a letter to NBC News. In the letter, David Wright, director of the Office of Research Integrity, asked if Cagle and another lab worker were punishing Moeinpour for being a whistleblower.

Moeinpour claimed that nothing has changed.

“The Defendant Cagle continued her harassment campaign unabated over the next few years,” the lawsuit said. “She told her colleagues that Ms. Moeinpour is a Middle Eastern woman from Iran, does not believe in God, that she is stupid and that she hates Ms. Moeinpour’s accent.”

Cagle, the lawsuit says, spat on the floor as he passed Moeinpour, urged Grubbs to “get rid of” her and “recruited colleagues to help her molest and mistreat Ms. Moeinpour.”

Moeinpour said on court records that Grubbs told her he was threatened after telling Cagle that if she didn’t stop her abusive behavior, she would be fired. “The next day four men came to his house and pushed him into the car and said, ‘This is your second warning. If you do it again, there won’t be a third one left, ”the lawsuit says.

Grubbs told Moeinpour that “Cagle was in the Mafia” and that according to the lawsuit, he was afraid of her. Thereafter, Moeinpour said, Grubbs refused to discipline Cagle, saying that if Moeinpour continued to try to complain, the lawsuit said it would be his word against hers.

Moeinpour said she had asked Mayer, the director of employee relations, for help but that “she was ignored, rejected and at least once the defendant Mayer asked to see a psychologist”.

“Despite Ms. Moeinpour’s reports of discrimination to the Defendant Mayer in the Human Resources Department and her superiors, Dr. Grubbs discriminated, molested and mocked the defendant Cagle Ms. Moeinpour almost daily because she was from the Middle East and Iran. “” Said the suit.

In February 2020, Moeinpour finally told Grubbs that she had called Human Relations and reported that Cagle had threatened his life and that she would tell his manager too.

“DR. Grubbs got more and more restless, said he was going to lose his job, they would ask why he hadn’t reported their complaints and that he would kill himself if that happened,” the lawsuit says.

According to the prosecution, Grubbs had called the campus police to arrest Moeinpour “in order to silence them about the actions of the defendant Cagle”.

Moeinpour said that when she told Grubbs that she had evidence she told him of her abuse allegations against Cagle, Grubbs “grabbed Ms. Moeinpour by the chin and knocked her down, cut her face with his nails and made her bleed”. said the complaint.

“When Mrs. Moeinpour fell to the ground, he fell on her and held her tight,” it said. “To get rid of him from her, Mrs. Moeinpour slapped him.”

Moeinpour admitted when the campus police arrived that they had beaten Grubbs “to try to get him to stop attacking and fondling them,” the lawsuit said.

Moeinpour was jailed hours later, according to the lawsuit, which said the UAB subsequently released her “for violating its guidelines on fighting and absenteeism, despite knowing that Ms. Moeinpour said she was from Grubbs had been attacked and without interviewing or asking for evidence to support their claims. “

Moeinpour repeated her report in the complaint she submitted to the Federal Commission for Equal Opportunities in August 2020 under her former married name Fariba Moeinpour Lawsen. She is divorced.

The UAB Police Department’s report on domestic violence dated February 13, 2020 described Moeinpour as an “out of control” aggressor who slapped Grubbs during an argument.

Grubbs said in the report that the dispute sparked when Moeinpour “went over his head and contacted his manager without contacting him first”. The report did not say why Moeinpour did this. Grubbs said he did not want to bring charges and that they had “been in a relationship for the last year”.

Moeinpour told NBC News, “I have never had a romantic relationship with Dr. Grubbs. “

Moeinpour, who is seeking unspecified damages for “mental and emotional suffering,” got emotional when she spoke of her ordeal.

“It’s been nine years of agony,” she said.

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