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Sterling Employment Law

AT&T loses religious discrimination suit, ordered to pay $5M

An AT&T worker who converted to Islam in 2005 was shocked at the change in the way her coworkers treated her. They had never bothered her before, but now they called her hijab "that thing on her head" and referred to her as a "towelhead" and a "terrorist." What was even more shocking to her was that her supervisors knew what she was going through, but made so little effort to stop the harassment.

Recently, the woman was awarded $5 million in punitive damages, plus $120,000 for lost wages, after she sued for religious discrimination. Her story should remind Michigan readers that they do not have tolerate disrespect in the workplace.

Generally speaking, to win a case like this, the woman would have had to prove that she was subjected to harassment and that her employer knew about it and did not do enough to stop it. In this particular instance, if the woman had been harassed by her coworkers but never told her supervisors about it, she would not have won because AT&T could have successfully argued that it never had a chance to correct the behavior. However, in this woman's saga, it seems that her boss was part of the problem; she claimed that at point, in 2008, he tore her hijab off her head to expose her hair (a violation of Muslim tradition). Thus, this woman did her part by alerting AT&T to the harassment and AT&T did not do its duty in curbing the offensive behavior.

Source: The Associated Press, "AT&T to pay Muslim woman $5M in harassment case," May 5, 2012


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