The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of New Jersey has decided to reconsider a discrimination complaint by Phillipsburg substitute teacher Walter Tutka, who was fired in January for reportedly breaking the local middle school's policy when he gave a student a Bible.
The EEOC recently announced in a brief letter that it plans to reconsider Tutka's complaint of wrongful termination and issue a decision in the case.
The commission's re-opening of the case comes after Tutka and his legal team, the Liberty Institute, filed an appeal against its original decision to dismiss the discrimination complaint due to what it described as a lack of evidence.
"The EEOC did the right thing by reopening its investigation and we are hopeful Walt will receive fair consideration of his claim," Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which focuses on "restoring religious liberty in America," said in a statement.
Tutka added that he was "thrilled" about the EEOC's decision to review his case and looks forward to a "successful resolution."
The teacher filed a wrongful termination complaint with the EEOC earlier this year after being fired from Phillipsburg Middle School for reportedly violating school policy by providing a student with a Bible upon the student's request.
In his complaint, Tutka claims that in October 2012, one of his students asked him where the phrase "The first shall be last, but the last shall be first" came from after Tutka recited the phrase once in class.
After persistent questioning by the student, Tutka provided the boy with a copy of the New Testament.
Days later, Tutka was reportedly accused by the Phillipsburg School District of distributing religious literature on campus and not maintaining a neutral stance when discussing religion with students.
In January, the substitute teacher was terminated by the school district.
Tutka filed his initial complaint against the school district with the EEOC on the grounds that he was wrongfully discriminated against due to his religion.
The EEOC responded to Tutka, saying that in order to address his claim, it required more information within 30 days, and although Tutka abided by the request, he received a letter prior to the deadline saying his claim could not be processed.
The Liberty Institute then issued a letter to the EEOC requesting that it reconsider the claim and arguing that the EEOC never had any attention of addressing the claim in the first place as it sent Tutka his denial letter prior to the 30-day deadline.
The legal group is now also claiming that the school district targeted Tutka because he is a member of Gideons International, a Nashville-based evangelical organization which disperses Bibles throughout the country.
The claims that Tutka was targeted because he is part of Gideons are based on an alleged email sent by middle school Assistant Principal John Stillo to faculty, which encouraged teachers to keep members of Gideons International off campus.
"It has been brought to the administration's attention that Gideons may be near our campus to distribute literature to our students," Stillo wrote, according to the Liberty Institute. "Please make sure they DO NOT step foot onto our campus at anytime. There will be added police and security presence at dismissal."
According to Lehigh Valley Live, Superintendent George Chando declined to speak on the EEOC's most recent decision to consider Tutka's complaint, only saying that he believes the previous decision by the EEOC "speaks for itself."
Christine Nazer, a spokeswoman for the EEOC, told NJ.com that the commission's decision to re-open a complaint proves rare, as approximately 68 percent of the charges filed with the EEOC in 2012 were dropped for "no reasonable charge."
"We recognize that it is a difficult decision to make for folks both financially and emotionally," Nazer told NJ.com of the decision to file a complaint with the EEOC.
"If you believe you've been a victim, first try to resolve it internally, and then if you feel that if you haven't received any satisfaction report to the EEOC," the spokeswoman added.
The Liberty Institute said that it is pleased the EEOC has chosen to follow through on its responsibility to stop religious discrimination. "The discrimination he faced because of his religious beliefs is unconstitutional and unacceptable in a free society," the legal group contended.