Daily Herald: Man Says Discrimination Was Behind Firing

A Carol Stream man fired from a manufacturing company is accusing his former employer of religious discrimination in retaliation for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Syed Abbas filed a federal lawsuit this week alleging his dismissal on March 3, 2003, was motivated by prejudice rather than job performance.

The 40-year-old man began working for AFI Industries in Carol Stream in May 1994 shortly after arriving in the United States from Pakistan. Abbas maintains he was a hard worker who often put in overtime.

The harassment began, he alleges, after Sept. 11, 2001, when a co-worker repeatedly called him a terrorist while his supervisor drew laughs at the factory by creating a drawing of Abbas labeled “wanted.”

The supervisor even threatened that the CIA and FBI were watching him and warned that someone would break into his home and shoot him, the suit alleges.

“I felt so alone,” Abbas said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “I felt scared … and very stressed a lot.”

An official with AFI Industries declined comment. The company makes screws and other fasteners.

Abbas, a father of four children, ages 12 to 8, said he came to the United States for a “better future.” He made about $45,000 a year before his dismissal. Things were fine at work, he said, but that changed after Sept. 11.

A supervisor repeatedly told him he was dangerous and that no more Pakistanis would be hired full time, the suit alleges. He also maintains his boss gave him more difficult assignments and reduced overtime hours.

At that time, Abbas had a part-time job delivering pizzas. A supervisor asked him if he delivered “anthrax pizza” and “poison pizza,” the lawsuit alleges. A co-worker left him notes containing words such as “terrorist” and “Al Qaida.”

Abbas said he repeatedly complained, first to a supervisor, later to the factory manager, but the harassment and discrimination continued. He was fired three months later.

“They didn’t care,” he said. “They didn’t fix the problem.”

Abbas said it took him seven months to find another job. His lawyer, Kamran Memon, who is affiliated with the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said Abbas still undergoes psychological counseling.

“We want Mr. Abbas to be compensated …,” Memon said. “In addition, we want this lawsuit to serve as a vehicle to further educate American-Muslims of their rights and re-enforce the message that they do not have to live as second-class citizens.”

The number of cases alleging workplace discrimination based on religion, specifically Muslim, has nearly doubled since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In the three years after the attacks, the number of such complaints nationwide to the EEOC rose to 1,920, compared with 973 in the three years before the attacks.

Abbas first filed a complaint with the EEOC in May 2003 alleging religious and national origin discrimination. The agency gave him a “right to sue” notice last October. It did not, however, rule one way or the other on Abbas’ allegations. He seeks an unspecified amount in damages in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court.

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