The Michigan Civil Rights Commission decided that threatening phone calls, derogatory posters and racial mockery are enough to constitute workplace discrimination, ending the two and a half year battle for Barash V. SMART.
“I think the key message, what I hope gets out, is that what’s happening politically in the world does not excuse discrimination within the workplace,” said Dan Levy, director of law and policy for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
The commission still has to decide what damages to give to SMART, a transportation service based in the Detroit area where Barash worked as a mechanic.
Jacki Miller, Michigan Department of Civil Rights public information officer, said damages could either be monetary or corrective. Corrective damages could include posting notices about workplace conduct or giving mandatory training to employees.
Discrimination and harassment against Barash began shortly after September 11, 2001.
“This occurred in a post-9/11 environment in which the hearing officer was initially prepared to forgive conduct,” Levy said. “He talked about things like ‘I’d Rather Smoke a Camel’ posters as being reactions to the events of 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan.”
The commission reversed the hearing officer’s recommendation.
“While that may have been why it was posted, it still creates a hostile work environment,” Levy said.
This was one reason the case took two and a half years to resolve. Miller said most cases of workplace discrimination are resolved in less than nine months.
Although it took longer than most, Miller said Barash V. SMART is representative of what happens in many workplaces.
“Sadly, I think this is not uncommon, especially in southeast Michigan,” Miller said.
Southeast Michigan has a high population of Arab Americans, with 162,318 living in Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw and Wayne counties in 2005, according to the 2005 American Community Survey.