A Cook County correctional officer who claimed he was harassed by colleagues because of his Arab ancestry was awarded $200,000 in damages by a federal jury this past Friday.
Officer Abraham Yasin sued the Cook County Sheriff’s office in 2007, saying he was constantly targeted by fellow officers with slurs such as “camel jockey,” “bin Laden,” and “shoe bomber” — over the radio and via graffiti scrawled on his locker.
Once, according to the court documents, a correctional officer called Yasin on the radio, and when Yasin did not respond, somebody said “he’s making a bomb.”
The sheriff’s office did not respond to his repeated complaints, according to the suit, which was filed on Yasin’s behalf by the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“This was an unprecedented decision,” CAIR staff attorney Kevin Vodak said. “The case stands as a legal precedent and a symbol of hope for Arab Americans to expect to be free of harassment in their workplace.”
The sheriff’s office said it resolved four of seven issues Yasin brought to his bosses. “Each was addressed quickly, and he thanked us each time,” the office said in a statement.
Three other incidents, including the graffiti on the locker, were investigated without discovering who was responsible, the statement said.
But the sheriff’s office said a reminder of the department’s zero-tolerance policy toward racism was read aloud at five consecutive roll calls.
“There was not a single incident that occurred after this was read,” the office said. “We are now exploring our options for an appeal.”
Another of Yasin’s attorneys, Jim Fennerty, said CAIR plans to ask the court for legal fees on top of the jury damages.
As an active officer, Yasin is not allowed to speak to the media without permission, but in a statement released after the verdict, he said he feels a “sense of relief and vindication.”
“I served my country in uniform with dignity and honor and felt betrayed that my service would be met by some of my fellows with racial slurs, harassment and ridicule,” Yasin said. “This is not what our country is about.”
Copyright © 2009, Sun-Times News Group Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2009.