A Jackson County, Missouri jury awarded $5 million in punitive damages to a Muslim woman who sued her former employer, Southwestern Bell/ AT&T. The jury issued its verdict on Thursday, May 3, 2012 in a case brought by a woman who claims that she was subjected to a hostile work environment after converting to Islam in 2005. She says while working at the company, her coworkers subjected her to harassing comments and behavior—calling her a “towel head” and a “terrorist,” asking if she was going to “blow up the building” and leaving Bible verses on her desk. The case, Susann Bashir v. AT&T, (Case No. 1016-CV38690) indicates just how high jury verdicts in Missouri can be in employment cases.
The Plaintiff in this case also claimed a supervisor attempted to pull off her head scarf, causing her to be so stressed about the incident that she could not return to work unless her manager was removed or she was transferred. When no such action was taken, Bashir failed to return to work for nine months, at which point she was terminated.
After deliberating for nine hours, the jury awarded Bashir $120,000 in lost wages and other compensatory damages. It also awarded $5 million in punitive damages. However, the jury found in favor of the company on Bashir’s retaliatory discharge claim. Under the Missouri Human Rights Act, Bashir now can seek additional compensation for the attorneys’ fees incurred in pursuing the case.
AT&T’s attorney says the managers involved deny Bashir’s accusations and question why Bashir made no other calls to the employee hotline regarding her complaints other than one call in 2005. In response to the verdict, the company released a statement: “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.”