A Michigan man who worked in maintenance for Washtenaw County was awarded over $1 million by a federal jury in Detroit. The plaintiff sued his former employer for terminating him, ostensibly because he was unqualified for his job, after nearly two decades of work. In his suit, the man alleged that he was denied promotions and eventually terminated at least in part because he is a Muslim and has a long beard, which is part of his faith.
According to the suit, the man’s life fell apart after he lost his job and was unable to get another one. His wife of over 25 years reportedly left him. He was homeless and “destitute” according to his lawyer.
The 56-year-old plaintiff has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years and is a naturalized citizen. However, his attorney said that his appearance has subjected him to profiling. The attorney acknowledges that his client, who is originally from the African country of Tunisia “fits the stereotype” that many people fear. He applauded the jury who “saw past the beard, saw past his name” and just looked at the evidence presented.” The $1.1 million award is one of the largest ever for an employment discrimination case involving a Muslim American.
Washtenaw County says that it disputes the contention that the plaintiff’s firing was based on any discrimination due to his religion or national origin. The county plans to appeal the verdict.
Employers who terminate workers always face the potential of being accused of wrongful discharge and potentially discrimination. That’s why it is essential that they have evidence to back up their actions. Unless an employee has committed a single fireable offense, this often includes a history of negative reviews or written reprimands in the employee’s file. It is essential that all companies and public entities work closely with their legal teams to help ensure that procedures are in place to protect them from costly employment litigation and to protect their employees’ wrongful termination.
Source: CBS Detroit, “Detroit Jury Awards Muslim Man A Record $1.1M In ‘Beard-Related’ Discrimination Case” No author given, Feb. 28, 2014