Chicago Tribune: Rizza Cadillac created hostile environment for Muslim, Arab staff

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has alleged Rizza Cadillac Inc. of Tinley Park with violating federal law by allegedly encouraging a work environment that was hostile and offensive to Muslim and Arab sales staff.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday against the new car dealership seeks compensatory and punitive damages, an order requiring the dealership to implement measures to prevent a recurrence of harassment and a permanent injunction against future discrimination.

The commission claims managers at the dealership fostered a discriminatory work environment using offensive slurs and making mocking and insulting references to the Quran and the manner in which Muslims pray.

The dealership on the 8100 block of West 159th Street is one of nine managed by brothers Joe Rizza and Tony Rizza.

John C. Hendrickson, the commission’s regional attorney in Chicago, said, “Employers may not allow managers to repeatedly make offensive slurs and insults about an employee’s religion or national origin.

“Comments implying that all Muslims are terrorists cannot be excused or minimized by calling it mere ‘banter’ about a minority ethnicity or religion. The EEOC stands ready to protect Muslim and Arab workers when they are subjected to such harassment.”

John Rowe, director of the commission’s Chicago district office, said an investigation showed “Rizza Cadillac failed to take prompt and effective measures to stop and prevent this abusive misconduct, as they were required to do by federal law.

“Employees should be judged by their performance,” Rowe said in a prepared statement, “not their religion or ethnicity.”

Harassment based on national origin or religion violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations separately identified the targets of the alleged harassment as Medhat Adawy, his son Adam and Mohammed El-Hajjami. It said the harassment occurred from January 2007 to November 2009 and blamed Rizza Cadillac’s finance manager at the time.

CAIR Spokesman Maryam Arain said the dealership fired the Adawys in September 2009 and terminated El-Hajjami two months later. That same year the finance manager was promoted to general manager, according to CAIR.

CAIR, which is representing the Adawys and El_Hajjami in a civil lawsuit, said Medhat was a 20-year sales employee whose roles included sales manager. He claims he was transferred to another dealership or laid off whenever Joe Rizza took over the management of a dealership at which he was working.

CAIR describes El-Hajjami as a top sales representative during his four years there. Arain said Adam Adawy was a sales representative.

The commission filed suit in federal court in Chicago after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case was assigned to federal Judge John J. Tharp Jr. and Magistrate Judge Mary M. Rowland.

The commission’s Chicago office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The case will be litigated by attorneys in the Chicago district area office.

Rizza management could not be immediately reached for comment.