A Missouri woman has won $5 million in a court case against phone service provider AT&T after complaining that she was chastised at work for converting to Islam.
Susann Bashir, a 41-year-old mother, was rewarded $5 million in punitive damages and another $120,000 in lost wages and actual damages by a Jackson County court Thursday after the jury decided she had experience a "hostile work environment" after converting to Islam.
Bashir worked as a fiber optics network technician at the AT&T unit Southwestern Bell in Kansas City since 1999. Bashir decided to file a lawsuit for religious discriminatory behavior from her supervisors after she allegedly received abuse for converting to Islam in 2005.
As Bashir's attorney, Amy Coopman, told the court, such offenses included Bashir's supervisors referring to her as a "terrorist" and the derogatory term "towel head."
As British publication the Daily Mail reports, one co-worker asked Bashir if she was going to blow up the building.
The turning point for Bashir, who reportedly made $70,000 at her AT&T job, was when her boss told her to take "that thing" off her head. The supervisor was referring to Bashir's Muslim headdress, known as a hijab.
According to the lawsuit, Bashir's manager once physically grabbed at the hijab in an attempt to remove it.
As the Daily Mail reports, Bashir contacted human resources in March 2005 requesting her coworkers receive sensitivity training to learn of religious plurality. It was not until March 2008 that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided to launch an investigation after she repeatedly complained.
Bashir told the court that she then became very uncomfortable in her work environment, and requested that her boss be removed or she be transferred. When neither of these things happened, Bashir stopped working. She was fired nine months later due to her absence.
An AT&T spokesman told the Kansas City Star Friday that the company does not agree with the verdict and plans to appeal, adding that AT&T is a "nationally recognized leader in workforce diversity and inclusion."
This past October, Bashir, who is recently divorced, moved with her daughter to Anchorage, Alaska where she has a job as an apartment manager.
She toldthe Kansas City Star that although she did not want to lose her job, she found it necessary to report the religious discrimination.
"I have mixed feelings," Bashir told the KC Star. "I'm happy not to be reporting to that management structure. But it's hard in this economy to find a job with that level of compensation. I didn't want to lose my job, because I felt I was doing good work."
"I hope others who get discriminated against won't feel so vulnerable," she said, adding, "they will know they can speak up."
Bashir's attorney, Coopman, told the Kansas City Star that this appears to be the largest sum of money won in a workplace discrimination case in Missouri history.