January 26, 2015
“Is your vest like ours, or is it a suicide bombing vest?”
In a professional situation, is this ever appropriate banter? What about when it’s being directed towards a muslim co-worker?
Elsiddig Elhindi, a 56-year-old Sudanese immigrant, does not think so. His lawyer agrees, and together they are taking his case to Federal Court.
His lawsuit states co-workers would say that and other discriminatory statements. Sometimes Elhindi would be greeted with “lalalalala BOOM” when walking into a room (followed by the dramatization of a suicide bomber).
Others suggested the need for “bomb-sniffing dogs” when Elhindi was around.
What do you think, simple workplace comedy? If so, Brice Hamack is not amused. He’s Elhindi’s attorney, and speaking at a press conference along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that “while we understand most work environments come with some level of joking and personal banter, employers must protect employees who become subjected to severe and pervasive harassment by their co-workers.”
This is exactly what Elhindi says his supervisors did not do. According to the lawsuit, prison management completely ignored Elhindi’s cries for help. It even alleges that he faced repercussions for bringing up the issue internally, as well as with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Dana Simas is a spokeswoman with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. She declined to comment on the case, but did confirm Elhindi to be a correctional sergeant for the department and that he is working at a prison in Vacaville.
Simas added that “…I can tell you the CDCR is an extremely diverse organization and we’d expect every employee to be treated with respect and fairness.”
From the outset, this is slated to be a publicly remarkable case due simply to the current environment for muslim-societal relations. Of course, this is not a universally “us versus them” situation, but tell that to people like Elhindi who are subjected to daily heralding that follows exactly this social division.
It is also quite possible that those who were involved in this banter did not believe they were causing him any distress – maybe even that it was the way in which they were accepting Elhindi into their group. Such a factor lacks relevance, given that from Elhindi’s perspective he was subjected to verbal battery that amounts to, as he put it at a press conference, “emotional torture.”
It’s for this reason that him and his lawyer will be seeking punitive damages for a multitude of charges that they believe to be legally justifiable: retaliation, harassment and civil rights violations. The charges are going up against both the state of California along with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Employers would be wise never to downplay an employee’s harassment complaints. As this case shows, even the state of California can end up on the chopping block for the actions of a few employees at a relatively obscure facility.
John Rosenbaum is a Laguna Hills workers compensation and personal injury attorney with over 30 years of incredible success in Orange County courts. His 99.8% success rate has earned him the trust of residents and professionals alike. If you are in need of legal representation in Orange County, give our offices a call for your free, no obligation consultation.