EEOC Files Religious Discrimination Suit Against Airline

July 18, 2003 ( - The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against regional commuter airline Trans States Airlines, Inc. alleging the company discriminated against one of its pilots on the basis of his religion.

>The alleged discrimination was against Mohammed Hussein, a pilot employed as a First Officer, because of his Islamic religious beliefs and his Arabic appearance.   Further, the agency says in the suit filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri that such action constitutes a violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights, according to a news release.

>Hussein, who is a native of Fiji, was fired one week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks despite an excellent work record.   After being terminated and being refused a reason by the company for his dismissal, Hussein filed a charge of religious, race and national origin discrimination with the EEOC in St. Louis.

>During EEOC’s investigation, Trans States asserted that it discharged Hussein on the basis of an anonymous report that he was in a “drinking establishment” while in uniform.   However, the EEOC alleges that contrary to the company’s established policy, Trans States did not investigate the alleged report or even identify the person who made it.   In addition, it refused to inform Hussein of the allegations against him or provide him a chance to respond to the purported accusation.

The EEOC filed the suit after its conciliation efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement proved futile and is seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting the company from engaging in employment discrimination.   Also, the agency seeks reinstatement, back wages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and other relief for Hussein.

Post 9/11 Pressure

In the weeks after 2001’s terrorist attacks, some Arab-American groups were critical of the commission for what the critics said was a lukewarm response to widespread reports of workplace discrimination against Arab Americans. Agency officials countered by insisting they stood ready to enforce anti-bias laws.

The commission has since filed national-origin lawsuits against six employers, including:

Robert Johnson, regional attorney of the EEOC’s St. Louis District Office, said, “The tragic events of 9/11 cannot be used to justify discrimination against innocent individuals because of their religion, national origin, or appearance. Even in times of great national distress, employers must uphold our freedoms and guard against unlawful discrimination”  Johnson’s comments also echo statement made by the agency at the end of 2002, warning against post-September 11 discrimination (See  EEOC Repeats Post 9/11 Discrimination Warnings ).

Since September 11, 2001, the EEOC has received more than 800 charge filings nationwide alleging post-9/11 backlash discrimination by individuals who are – or who are perceived to be – of Middle Eastern descent. Nearly 100 individuals aggrieved by 9/11-related employment discrimination have received over $1.45 million in monetary benefits through EEOC’s enforcement, mediation, conciliation, and litigation efforts, the agency said.