Muslim Worker Fired After Announcing He’d Defend Himself Against Harassers
Employer refused to take action on man’s complaint
In the aftermath of last week’s election, racial tension is something that’s top of mind for many people.
It’s important to keep in mind that federal law offers protection from racial discrimination on the job. Let’s take a look at a recent case in which a Muslim worker prevailed after his employer repeatedly blew off his complaints.
Deaf ears all around
DeMarco Nichols worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for 10 years. However, not long after his 10-year anniversary, Nichols was fired for making violent threats against his coworkers.
During Nichols’s tenure with IDOT, he’d received positive performance reviews and had no history of violence. So what happened to cause Nichols to make alleged “violent threats?”
According to Nichols, the trouble started after he was temporarily promoted to an acting supervisory position. He claims that several coworkers refused to respect the authority that came with the position, and that managers held him to a higher level of scrutiny than other people with the same job title.
Nichols complained about this situation on several occasions. He also pointed out misconduct that he’d witnessed from other workers, such as stealing and not working all the hours they reported. However, he claims his supervisor’s only response was that Nichols should mind his own business.
Prayer request denied
Later, Nichols asked the same supervisor if he could have a quiet place to pray during his lunch break. The supervisor never responded to the request, so Nichols escalated it up the chain of command. The request was denied.
After that, Nichols says he started hearing gossip that another coworker was going to assault him if he didn’t drop his complaints. Nichols called the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to report the situation. However, he says he was told to take up the matter with local management. He tried to explain that the local managers were part of the problem, but claims that he was hung up on.
By this time, Nichols was becoming irate. He sent identical faxes to both the EAP and the employer’s Labor Relations Department. In part, the fax stated:
Since the grievance, I have heard one of the Lead Workers […] saying: De Marco is going to mess around and get himself "f*cked up". What do you think this means? I think it means "SOMEONE" wants me physically hurt. I am capable of protecting myself. And WILLING, if the threat persists, to do away with it by ANY AND ALL NECESSARY MEANS. Am I "hostile"? No. THE QUR'AN TEACHES PEACE. Am I capable of "hostility"? Yes. INFINITE hostility. Just yesterday, I had a family emergency. When I came in late, the "tech" sent me home. If there is another incident of this nature, someone in the Harvey yard is going to get "fucked up". YOU HAVE BEEN TOLD: These men are trying to act like "mobsters". These men are trying to say they "know people". Well[,] so do I.
"AS TO LIFE, ALLAH GAVE IT." "A COWARD IS NOT LIKELY TO SAVE IT[.]".
DE MARCO NICHOLS
Nichols was questioned about the contents of the fax. He clarified that he had been in a state of extreme frustration when he wrote it. He added that he was simply trying to get his employer to view him as human. He said that the allusions to defending himself referred to his training in boxing and martial arts.
Nichols also asserted that his employer was choosing to ignore his statement about being peaceful, as well as the fact that he had tried to remedy the situation in a peaceful manner several times.
Nichols was suspended and then fired.
He sued his employer for discrimination and for violating his rights under the state Whistleblower’s Act.
The employer lost. After a nine-day trial, a jury awarded Nichols $1.5 million for emotional harm. He is also entitled to payment for lost wages and lost future pay. That amount is yet to be determined.
(The case discussed here is Nichols v. Illinois Department of Transportation.)
What it means to you
If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against because of your race, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.