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Muslim woman wins discrimination verdict against Southwestern Bell

The AT&T unit will pay former employee $5 million

A jury has ordered AT&T to pay a former employee, who was a Muslim, $5 million in punitive for creating a “hostile work environment” based on the woman’s religion.

Susan Bashir began working for Southwestern Bell, a unit of AT&T, in 1999 as a network technician. At the time, Bashir was Christian. In 2005, she converted to the Islamic faith, at which time she says a pattern of discriminatory and offensive conduct among her supervisors began.

Bashir claims her managers and co-workers began calling her names, such as terrorist, and made fun of her religious head scarf, known as a hijab. On one instance, the lawsuit says, her manager told her to remove the hijab, and when she refused, he tried to pull it off of her head.

Bashir reported her complaints to the company’s human resources department and eventually to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Bashir was ultimately fired from her position in 2010. Last week, after hearing testimony for several days, a jury ordered AT&T to pay Bashir $120,000 in actual damages plus $5 million in punitive damages.

"AT&T is a nationally recognized leader in workforce diversity and inclusion, something in which we take great pride. We disagree with the verdict and plan to appeal," AT&T spokesman Marty Richter told Thomson Reuters.

Bashir’s lawyer, Amy Coopman, said she believes the company has an excellent written policy. "If they had just followed the policy none of this would have happened," she added. 

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Cathleen Flahardy

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