Azza Elmostehi said her former employer, Poggenpohl U.S. Inc., unlawfully dismissed herafter she went to management complaining about a co-worker’s disparaging remarks. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court of the Southern District of New York, says the company created a “hostile work environment” and subjected Elmostehi to harassment and discrimination, according to a New York Daily News report.
The former saleswoman at the firm said the trouble started when a co-worker called her “Mrs. Taliban” and “Mrs. Osama bin Laden.” Despite Elmostehi’s grief, the co-worker continued with the remarks, at one point telling her she could “find alternate employment as a suicide bomber for Saddam Hussein.”
“It made me cry, and she never stopped,” Elmostehi told the Daily News.
Michael Gorelick, an attorney representing Poggenpohl, said the company did not violate equal employment opportunity laws and instead label Elmostehi as “a disgruntled former employee.” He told the New York Post that “the person who harassed her was fired as soon as the company confirmed that … objectionable statements had been made.”
September 11 Backlash
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 seven employers, including:
- a Phoenix car rental company
- an aerospace manufacturer in Tampa
- an art museum in Worcester, Massachusetts (See EEOC Sues Mass. Museum for Anti-Muslim Discrimination )
- a kidney dialysis center in North Carolina (See North Carolina Medical Clinic Settles 9/11 Discrimination Case )
- a Stockton, California steel mill (See EEOC Settles Pakistani-American Discrimination Suit )
- a St. Louis commuter airline (See EEOC Files Religious Discrimination Suit Against Airline ).
Monique Roberts, the EEOC trial attorney handling the most recent case, said it represents the difficulties Muslims have faced in US workplaces since the terrorist attacks. “This is the case that fit what we were looking for in terms of trying to stem the tide of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim harassment in the workplace,” she said.
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.