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AT&T found guilty of workplace discrimination

After three years of being battered with insults and derogatory comments that wore on her mentally and emotionally, a woman who was fired in 2008 has won a $5 million award through a discrimination lawsuit against her former employers, AT&T.

The woman converted to Islam in 2005, and says she immediately felt co-workers treating her differently, even labeling her workspace "hostile." Sadly, this is the kind of workplace discrimination story you hear far too often, whether you are in a major city like Houston, Texas or a smaller one in the corners of the country.

She wore a hijab, which covers the hair and some of the head, which is customary for her faith -- but it drew intense and insulting criticism. Some at her AT&T office in Kansas City called her hijab "that thing on her head" and referred to her as a "towelhead." When the scrutiny reached a tipped point, her boss ripped the hijab from her head.

Co-workers seemingly had no shame, as they even asked the woman if she was going to blow up the building.

"Nobody ever cared what I wore before," she said. "Nobody ever cared what religion I was before."

The acts by the woman's co-workers are deplorable and clearly more steps need to be taken to protect people from religious discrimination, according to the woman's testimony. She said she called AT&T's employee help line to complain about the abuse she was taken and that her co-workers should be given sensitivity training, only to have it fall on deaf ears.

"It was a worthless call," she said, adding that "nothing ever changed."

As employees, we are afforded civil rights that protect us from being discriminated against based on a variety of factors such as race, religion, age, pregnancy, gender and disability. None of these factors should matter when hiring (or retaining) employees, especially if you do good work -- which seems indicative of the woman's 10-year reign at AT&T. When these factors do impact a person's employment, the company opens itself up for scrutiny and liability.

Source: Associated Press, "Muslim woman wins $5 million in punitive damages from AT&T in workplace discrimination suit," May 5, 2012

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