An Arab- and Muslim-American man filed a $12 million lawsuit Thursday against a Wal-Mart store that caters to his community -- saying employees discriminated against him and fired him because of his background.
Louay Kezy, 43, of Dearborn, Mich., filed the suit in Wayne County Circuit Court. He accuses Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart and three employees at its Dearborn store of violating his civil rights through threats, harassment and dismissal after complaining about the employees' conduct.
The lawsuit uses aliases for the three employees because their full names are unknown, but it said they will be fully identified during the discovery process.
Wal-Mart spokesman Greg Rossiter said he had not seen the lawsuit and could only confirm that Kezy had been terminated. But Rossiter stressed Wal-Mart has a strict policy prohibiting discrimination in any form.
"The Dearborn store has gone to great lengths to serve the community there," he said.
The store opened in March with the area's large Arab and Muslim population in mind. It offers hundreds of items geared toward them, such as food and music. It also opened with 35 Arabic-speaking employees -- noted in Arabic script on their badges -- and hired a local Arab-American educator to teach the staff cultural sensitivity.
Kezy, who worked at the store from March to August, said he was the only Arab or Muslim to work in the stock room, where he said he endured jokes about terrorists and was threatened by another employee. The lawsuit says his hours were reduced, he was denied mandated break time and was "arbitrarily shuffled" between departments after complaining to managers.
"They start telling me stuff -- 'We don't like you. We hate you all,'" said Kezy, who remains unemployed. "They want to beat me up. (One said), 'I want to punch you in the face.'"
After that threat, Kezy said he filed a written report. He said a manager insisted on bringing in another manager to serve as a translator during a meeting, but Kezy said he has been in the U.S. for 28 years and speaks fluent English.
Kezy said he was told he had to apologize to one of his managers, but he refused because he had done nothing wrong. The lawsuit said he was suspended Aug. 11 and fired three days later without explanation.
The lawsuit says Kezy has suffered mental and emotional distress and seeks $12 million for compensatory and exemplary damages, lost wages, the value of fringe benefits and attorney fees.
Nabih Ayad, Kezy's attorney, said efforts by the store to reach out to the Arab and Muslim community do not appear to have helped his client.
"Employees committing these acts were not Arab or Muslim, and the company did nothing to remedy it," Ayad said.
Store officials said earlier this year they spent more than a year studying the market and meeting with community groups before opening the first-of-its kind store in the region with one of the nation's largest Arab and Muslim populations.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, said a representative of his organization was among those that met with Wal-Mart officials before the store opened.
Walid said the store has done a great deal of marketing and public relations, but added "there's a difference between seeking to profit from the community" and having a "true appreciation for diversity as well as workers' rights."
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