ACLU Urges Appeals Court Action on Behalf of Muslim Man Harassed by Coworkers

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
June 7, 2006 12:00 am

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“Religious Discrimination and Hatred of Immigrants Have No Place in Maine,” MCLU Says


PORTLAND, ME — Tomorrow, the Maine Civil Liberties Union will argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit that a Muslim man subjected to humiliating harassment at work should receive a remedy in court.

Abdul Azimi, a native of Afghanistan, was subjected to two years of racial, ethnic and religious harassment by co-workers at Jordan’s Meats in Portland, while his employer did nothing to stop the abuse.

“If our country’s civil rights laws are to mean anything, there must be some real penalty associated with severe racial, ethnic or religious harassment,” said Zachary Heiden, a staff attorney with the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “A jury found that Mr. Azimi suffered significant harm from two years of workplace harassment. We hope that the court will find that Mr. Azimi should be compensated for that harm.”

At his trial, the jury found that Azimi was indeed subjected to “hostile work environment” harassment — a violation of Federal law — but it awarded him no compensation for his suffering. The MCLU, as a “friend of the court,” is arguing that not awarding compensation is inconsistent with the decision .

The harassment of Azimi took many forms. His coworkers targeted him for being a Muslim and an Afghani. He was physically threatened and called a “fucking nigger” and a “fucking piece of shit.” Notes were left in Azimi’s locker calling him a “fucking Musselum” (sic) and suggesting that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden are his parents. His goggles and hearing protection equipment were smashed, his shoes were placed in the toilet, and the pockets of his work uniform were filled with ham and pork.

“Religious discrimination and hatred of immigrants have no place in Maine,” said MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows. “Our courts have to make sure everyone knows that this is not acceptable behavior.”

Racial, ethnic and religious discrimination in the workplace violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was passed to remedy some of the injustices revealed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The case was tried in the U.S. District Court in Maine. The appeal will be heard at 9:30 a.m. at the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sits. That court hears appeals from federal cases in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

Jeff Young and Stephanie Jazlowiecki, of the law firm of McTeague, Higbee, Case, Cohen, Whitney & Toker, are cooperating counsel in this case. Jazlowiecki will present oral arguments on behalf of the MCLU.

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