Wait a minute. He worked there for 17 years and then was fired for being a Muslim and having a long beard? Did he just convert to Islam and grow the beard recently? No, he’s a Tunisian native and there is no indication that he was anything but a Muslim with a long beard when he was hired. He says he endured regular taunts and harassment at work, although offered no examples or evidence. So he worked there day in and day out for 17 years while enduring harassment and taunts? And then, after 17 years, his “Islamophobic” but amazingly lethargic and unobservant bosses finally notice that he is a Muslim with a long beard, and fire him?
Nothing in this story rings true, except that if you’re a Muslim claiming discrimination, you can get what you want out of a Michigan jury these days.
“Muslim-American man wins nearly $1.2 million in job discrimination case,” by Tresa Baldas for the Detroit Free Press, February 28 (thanks to all who sent this in):
His co-workers may have not seen past his beard, but the jury did.
A Muslim American man from Ypsilanti has won a nearly $1.2-million jury award after successfully arguing he was harassed, taunted and discriminated against at work because of his religion, race and appearance — most notably, his long beard.
Ali Aboubaker, 56, a U.S. citizen and Tunisia native with four advanced degrees, was awarded the judgment on Thursday following a two-week jury trial in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
“We were stunned,” said Aboubaker’s lawyer, Shereef Akeel, who stressed to the jury that his client had several strikes against him.
“I said, ‘Look at him. First of all, his name is Ali Aboubaker. That’s one strike. Look at his beard. That’s two strikes. He’s from Tunisia — an African American — that’s another strike. Can you give this man a fair shake? Look at him, please,” Akeel recalled of the trial.
An “African American”? That in itself shows up Shereef Akeel’s cynicism and disingenuousness.
“And you know what? The jury gave him that fair shake,” Akeel said. “They saw past his beard, past his name, past his race, past his religion. They saw a man who was terribly wronged.”
According to court documents, Aboubaker, a father of four, was an employee of Washtenaw County for 17 years, where he worked his way from bus driver to maintenance technician. He started in 1991 and was fired in 2008 for alleged insubordination — he refused to start working five minutes before his shift officially started.
Aboubaker ended up suing, alleging the real reason behind his firing was discrimination. He claimed that for years, he was subjected to racial and ethnic taunts in the workplace but management didn’t do anything to stop it, his lawsuit stated.
Akeel said the jury never heard the actual ethnic slurs during trial. Aboubaker also sued over a promotion he didn’t get, alleging he was passed over for an entry-level drain-inspector position he lost to less-qualified job candidates.
“They gave the job to someone who wasn’t even in the union,” Akeel said, noting union employees were to get first dibs. “There was no other reason but discrimination — ethnic, religious and race discrimination. Different rules applied to Ali … he was more than qualified for this position.”
Attorney Tom Wurst, who defended Washtenaw County, said he plans to appeal but declined further comment.
In court documents, the county denied having engaged in any discriminatory practices and said Aboubaker had a history of insubordination and poor performance at work. Prior to his termination, the county said, Aboubaker had been disciplined five times for insubordination.
The county also wrote that Aboubaker didn’t get the drain-inspector job because he wasn’t qualified for it. As for the hostile workplace claims, the county wrote: “(Aboubaker) has failed to point to any discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to have altered the conditions of his employment with the County. At most, he has pointed to stray, isolated comments and mere offensive utterances.”
Akeel noted this was a “he-said-she-said” case and the jury believed his client, who lost more than his job when he was fired. His wife left him and he became homeless at the peak of the recession.
“He lost everything,” Akeel said. “He came to America because he believed in America … Now the jury has restored his faith.”