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US: Iraqi Sues Bechtel for Discrimination

by David R. BakerSan Francisco Chronicle
October 3rd, 2003

Bechtel Corp., the San Francisco construction firm helping to rebuild Iraq, has been sued by the federal government for allegedly discriminating against an Iraqi American employee after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Bechtel on Tuesday on behalf of Sahir Kizy, of Royal Oak, Mich., saying he was subject to ethnic slurs at work, excluded from meetings and eventually fired.

"All illegal harassing and humiliating behavior is offensive," said Jacqueline McNair, a regional attorney for the commission, in a prepared statement. "Sadly, Bechtel Corporation officials chose to condone the harassment Mr. Kizy was subjected to, and we sue to rectify that situation."

A Bechtel spokesman denied the charges. Kizy was a temporary employee who actually received an extension on his original two-month assignment, Bechtel spokesman Jonathan Marshall said.

"We believe this complaint is utterly without merit," Marshall said Thursday in a prepared statement. "Indeed, we have a number of valued Iraqi and Iraqi American employees on staff in the United States and abroad."

Kizy could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Bechtel is not the only company to come under the commission's scrutiny after the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 800 people - mostly Muslims, Arabs or south Asians - have complained to the commission that they faced workplace discrimination triggered by the attacks.

In response, the commission has filed 11 lawsuits against companies, including magazine publisher Newsweek and several New York hotels. Nearly 100 people have received a total of $1.6 million for complaints of post-Sept. 11 discrimination.

The Bechtel suit, filed in a federal court in Newark, N.J., accuses the company of allowing discrimination against Kizy, a right-of-way engineer working on a wireless phone project for AT&T out of Bechtel's Hackensack, N.J., facility.

After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Kizy was called a "(expletive) Arab" and told to go back to "wherever he came from," according to the commission. He complained to the company without result, the commission said.

Kizy, who was hired on June 29, 2001, was later excluded from meetings and fired on June 14, 2002, even though work on his project hadn't finished, the commission said.

Marshall said the commission refused to share its evidence with Bechtel, which had conducted its own investigation and found no wrongdoing. The commission sought a $225,000 settlement for Kizy and filed suit rather than seek mediation when Bechtel refused, Marshall said.

He described the suit, and a commission press release describing it, as an attempt to embarrass Bechtel into settling the case.

E-mail David R. Baker at dbaker@sfchronicle.com.





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