May 24th, 2012
Muslim woman wins $5 million discrimination claim against ATT
By Carey Gillam, Reuters, May 4, 2012 and
By Jared Bilski, CFO Daily News, May 24, 2012
A Kansas City woman who converted from Christianity to Islam has been awarded $5 million in punitive damages by a jury who found the telecommunications giant AT&T created a “hostile work environment” after her conversion, according to a judge’s order issued Friday.
Susann Bashir, a 41-year-old married mother, sued AT&T unit Southwestern Bell for what she said was a pattern of offensive and discriminatory conduct by her supervisors that began when she converted to Islam in 2005, six years after she started working for the company as a network technician.
After Bashir started wearing a religious head scarf known as a hijab, and attending Friday mosque services, her managers and co-workers called her names including “terrorist,” and told her she was going to hell, said her attorney Amy Coopman. She was asked directly if she was going to blow up the building.
In response, Bashir called the employee help line and requested sensitivity training for her co-workers. When no action was taken, she went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) with her complaints.
The EEOC began investigating Bashir’s complaints. Her manager repeatedly told her to remove her hijab, insulted her for wearing it, and after she filed her EEOC complaint, he physically grabbed Bashir and tried to rip the hijab off her head, according to the suit.
Following this incident, Bashir asked that either: she be transferred or her manager removed. When neither of those things happened, Bashir said she was so stressed out she couldn’t go back to work. The company responded by terminating her in 2010.
After several days of hearing testimony and deliberation, a jury in Jackson County Circuit Court on Thursday May 3 ordered AT&T to pay $5 million in punitive damages on top of $120,000 in actual damages.
AT&T spokesman Marty Richter said the company would appeal.
“AT&T is a nationally recognized leader in workforce diversity and inclusion, something in which we take great pride. We disagree with the verdict and plan to appeal,” Richter said.
Bashir’s lawyer said the jury award was “monumental” to Bashir, but said it had little impact on AT&T, a multi-billion-dollar global corporation.
“The company has an excellent written policy,” said Bashir’s attorney Coopman. “If they had just followed the policy none of this would have happened.”
It’s worth noting that while workplace bullying isn’t automatically illegal, it can trigger other employment laws, and there are a number of court cases where companies have been found liable of not doing enough to protect employees who complained of being bullied at work.
Policy-schmolicy. Without enforcement, it’s all lip service and hypocrisy. Remember that when your employer, or any employer, boasts of having a policy as if they have adequately addressed their bullying problem.
The second note from the story above is that the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) publication makes the point to stop ignoring bullying complaints or face great financial risks. As we have said for years … Bullies are too expensive to keep!
Finally, a note of caution to bullied targets who think winning this type of lawsuit is easy. It is not. This was not a bullying case. It was clearcut discrimination, which is illegal. If her mistreatment weren’t tied directly to her religious conversion as the root cause, she would not have had a strong case. Lawsuits are expensive and life consuming. Her mistreatment started in 2006. She was terminated in 2010. The jury verdict came in mid-2012.
This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 11:02 am and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Print: News, Blogs, Magazines, Rulings by Courts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.