Muslim Workers Win $240K For Refusing To Transport Beer
By Kelly Knaub
October 21, 2015
An Illinois federal jury Tuesday awarded $240,000 to two Muslim men fired from Star Transport Inc. for refusing to transport beer because of their beliefs, in a case brought against the company by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The jury, from Illinois’ Central District, handed each man $100,000 in punitive damages, along with another $20,000 each for mental or emotional pain they experienced as a result of being fired, after finding that the Morton, Illinois-based trucking company acted with reckless disregard of the men’s rights under the law when it terminated them.
A text order in the federal court docket showed that each man was also awarded approximately $1,500 in back pay as well. The trial began on Monday, with the jury returning its verdict shortly after noon on Tuesday, according to the docket.
An attorney for Star Transport, as well as representatives for the company and the EEOC, did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday.
The EEOC filed suit in May 2013, alleging that Star Transport refused to accommodate the religious beliefs of Mahad Abass Mohamed, formerly known as Mahad Abdi Aden, and Abdikarim Hassan Bulshale, formerly known as Abdikarim Abdallah Ismail, when it fired them for refusing to deliver alcohol, according to court documents. Mohamed and Bulshale changed their names when they became U.S. citizens in 2011 and 2010, respectively, court documents show.
Specifically, the agency charged that Star Transport violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by firing the men for observing their religious beliefs.
Mohamed was assigned to pick up a load of beer at Miller Brewing Co. in July 2009 and immediately informed his dispatcher that he could not transport alcohol because of his Islamic religion, according to court documents. Bulshale was assigned in August 2009 to transport a load of beer and also informed his dispatcher that he could not because of his religion, court documents show.
Both men were terminated by the company on Aug. 11, 2009, because of an observance of their religious beliefs, the EEOC had alleged.
“The EEOC is proud to support the rights of workers to equal treatment in the workplace without having to sacrifice their religious beliefs or practices,” EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement. “This is fundamental to the American principles of religious freedom and tolerance.”
June Calhoun, one of the EEOC attorneys who litigated the case, called the verdict “an awesome outcome,” saying that Star Transport failed to provide any discrimination training to its human resources personnel, which resulted in catastrophic results for the workers.
‘They each suffered real injustice which needed to be dealt with,” Calhoun said. “By this verdict, the jury remedied the injustice by sending clear messages to Star Transport and other employers that they will be held accountable for their unlawful employment practices.”
Moreover, she said, the jurors signaled to Mohamed and Bulshale that religious freedom is a right for all Americans.
“This case makes me proud to be American,” Bulshale said in a statement.
Star Transport is represented by William R. Kohlhase of Miller Hall & Triggs LLC.
The EEOC is represented by EEOC trial attorneys June W. Calhoun, Aaron R. DeCamp and Diane I. Smason.
The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Star Transport Inc., case number 1:13-cv-01240, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.