Arab Muslim employees face discrimination at local car dealership


– For Immediate Release & Distribution –

EEOC charges Rizza Cadillac with harassment of Arab Muslim employees

CAIR-Chicago files individual discrimination claims later this week

(CHICAGO, 9/18/2013) — In a lawsuit filed today, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged Rizza Cadillac of violating federal law by creating a hostile work environment for three Arab Muslim employees. The Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago) has been representing these employees and will be filing additional claims on their behalf later this week.

In the lawsuit, the EEOC alleges that Adam Adawy, Medhat Adawy, and Mohammed El-Hajjami were subjected to harassment from managers at the Rizza Cadillac dealership from January 2007 through November 2009. The harassment included the regular use of offensive slurs, including “terrorist,” “sand n****r,” and “Hezbollah,” as well as mocking and insulting references to the Qur’an and the manner in which Muslims pray.

Rizza Cadillac is located in Tinley Park, Illinois, an area that has an increasing Arab and Muslim population. The dealership is one out of nine managed by brothers Joe Rizza and Tony Rizza.

All three employees experienced the extremely offensive harassment primarily from George Benzing, the former Finance Manager who was promoted to General Manager in 2009. According to the employees, both Joe Rizza and Tony Rizza were fully aware of Benzing’s harassing treatment, but they elected to promote him rather than take appropriate action.

The EEOC’s lawsuit entitles the employees to intervene with their own individual claims against Rizza Cadillac. Kevin Vodak, Litigation Director at CAIR-Chicago, who has been representing the three employees, intends to file these additional claims, which include unlawful discharge for each of the employees.

Medhat Adawy worked at the Rizza dealerships for approximately 20 years, including as a Sales Manager beginning in 1999. Medhat alleges that Joe Rizza would transfer him to another dealership or terminate his employment whenever Joe Rizza took over the management of a dealership at which he was working. According to another manager, Joe Rizza expressed that he did not want any Arab Muslim managers working at the dealerships he directly managed.

Mohammed El-Hajjami was one of the top salespersons at Rizza Cadillac, where he worked for more than four years. Mohammed alleges that he was terminated in November 2009 for refusing to discourage another former Arab employee from withdrawing his discrimination claim against the company.

“The repeated use of Islamophobic and racist terms directed against Arab Muslim employees was deplorable in this case, and we commend the EEOC for filing suit,” said Vodak. “The allegations reveal a sanctioned denigration of Arab Muslims, when this same community has been contributing to the Rizzas’ continued success in the auto sale industry.”

Should the employees prevail in their lawsuit, they will be entitled to recover lost wages, compensatory damages for the emotional harm they suffered, and punitive damages. The EEOC may also obtain additional relief, such as court-mandated measures to ensure that the Rizza dealerships have effective mechanisms for preventing harassment.