Ali Aboubaker moved to the United States from Tunisia almost 25 years ago and began working for Washtenaw County in Michigan in 1991. Aboubaker started as a bus driver and later moved up to maintenance technician. However, over the years, Aboubaker applied for numerous promotions for which he believed he was qualified, and was continually passed over. Finally, in 2008, the County terminated
Aboubaker, a Muslim, wears a long, untidy beard, as is common among devout Muslim men because they believe that trimming or cutting a beard is unlawful. He states he suffered verbal abuse and harassment regarding his beard for years at work. He further claims he was repeatedly denied promotions and ultimately fired because of his religious beliefs. Aboubaker filed a lawsuit against his former
employer for unlawful discrimination, among other allegations.
Overall, Aboubaker claimed his supervisors and coworkers unlawfully taunted him with offensive slurs regarding the following:
· His religious beliefs;
· His beard;
· His race; and
· His ethnic background from Tunisia.
When he applied for an entry-level drain inspector position (which would have been considered a promotion), he was passed over for a less qualified and non-union candidate, even though union members were supposed to receive preference. Furthermore, though his supervisor claimed he was fired due to “insubordination,” Aboubaker states he did nothing wrong and only refused to start work before his
shift actually started.
Washtenaw County, on the other hand, claims that none of the promotion or termination decisions had anything to do with Aboubaker’s race, religion, or ethnicity. They claim that he was, in fact, insubordinate and had previously been disciplined five times for similar insubordination. Finally, the employer argued that none of the ridicule or insults that may have taken place rose to the required level of creating a hostile work environment and, therefore, did not constitute unlawful harassment.
After siz years and a two-week trial in a case Aboubaker’s attorney described as “he-said-she-said,” a jury heard all the evidence and awarded Aboubaker $1.2 million to compensate him for unlawful discrimination. The award was the largest ever awarded to a Muslim plaintiff in religious discrimination case in the United States.
Whether the full $1.2 million award will stand is yet to be seen, since Title VII limits the amount of compensatory and punitive damages a person can receive in an employment discrimination case. A judge will have to decide whether to reduce the award. Furthermore, Washtenaw County plans to appeal the decision.
Religious, racial and ethnic discrimination are all against both federal and Oregon state laws. If you have been the victim of unlawful discrimination or harassment in the workplace, the experienced employment attorneys at HKM can assist you with a possible case.