A Lexington man has filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer, auto dealership Glenn Buick-GMC Trucks, saying he was the target of a racially charged stunt by a fellow employee and wrongfully fired afterward.
Easa Shadeh, a U.S. citizen of Arab descent, says in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Lexington that in late April 2013 — soon after the bombings at the Boston Marathon — one of Shadeh's co-workers came to work wearing "a turban, fake bomb vest and backpack and pretended to make bombs near a prayer rug by his GMC work desk."
The lawsuit says that, with other employees and managers looking on, the employee pointed at Shadeh and said that "your people" were responsible for the bombing.
Glenn has denied the claims.
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Barbara Kriz, an attorney for the dealership, said a supervisor walked in during the incident involving the employee impersonating a terrorist. An investigation was opened and the dealership determined that the employee and Shadeh regularly took part in exchanging practical jokes and at times called each other inappropriate names, Kriz said. Both employees were disciplined and received warning letters.
Shadeh, 44, disputes that. The lawsuit says Shadeh complained of discrimination, and the co-worker was transferred to the Hyundai building a few days later. Shadeh says he was fired because he objected to discriminatory behavior, and he says the other employee was moved back to the Buick building a few days after his firing.
The other employee, identified in the lawsuit as Charles Bush, is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Bush did not return calls for comment.
Shadeh, who began working as a sales manager at Glenn in January 2012, also claims in the lawsuit that he was called a "camel jockey" and was "subjected to humiliating ethnic jokes and various other offensive and discriminatory names."
Shadeh says he complained "repeatedly" to his supervisors, but nothing was done. In one instance, he says a supervisor told him that "he didn't mind these ethnic comments because they were made by other minorities."
The lawsuit says the FBI came to the dealership to investigate after the event.
Shadeh accuses Glenn Buick-GMC of discrimination and retaliation and is asking for reinstatement or "front pay and back pay," as well as lost earnings and benefits and compensatory and punitive damages.
"I lost my job because someone came to work dressed like a cartoon terrorist, discriminated against me, and said it was 'my people' who did this," Shadeh said in the news release. "My grandfather served in World War I and I've lived in this country my entire life."
But Glenn officials say not all is as it seems.
In a response filed in court, Glenn denies Shadeh's allegations of discrimination and retaliation and says that "all decisions made with respect to the plaintiff's employment were made in good faith and based on legitimate business considerations."
The company also says that "if any discriminatory conduct was directed at the plaintiff, which is denied, those actions were in response to the discriminatory conduct of the plaintiff directed at other employees."
Kriz, the dealership's attorney, said that Glenn does not tolerate discrimination and the company has rules against it. She added that there were some other work-related issues, lack of candor and legal issues regarding Shadeh that resulted in his firing. Shadeh worked for the dealership from 2012 and 2013 and was laid off around May, Kriz said.
Kriz would not say what those other issues were.
Fayette District Court records show that Shadeh was charged with DUI on April, 28, 2011, after a wreck on Greentree Road that sent the driver of the other vehicle to the hospital.
According to the arrest report, Shadeh told police that he worked for a car dealer and was in the process of buying the BMW he was driving that was involved in the collision. The documents do not say which car dealership Shadeh worked for.
He told police he had just left work and hadn't been drinking, but police said there was an open bottle of Bud Light on the floorboard, and he had bloodshot, watery eyes and a strong smell of alcohol on him. Shadeh pleaded guilty. His license was suspended until Oct. 13, 2011, court documents show.
In an interview earlier this week, Shadeh said his DUI conviction was "completely unrelated" to his discrimination case and firing from Glenn. He said he told the owner about it during the interview process.
Shadeh said his license was reinstated two days after he was hired, "and they knew about it."
"It was three years ago. I made a bad decision. I paid my debt," he said. "It's something I really regret. It's never happened again."
He said he later forgot to renew his license in September 2013, but he got it renewed, showed it to his supervisors and all was well.
Shadeh also denied claims by Glenn attorneys that he, too, was guilty of inappropriate name-calling and practical jokes toward the other employee.
"I never did anything like that towards him," Shadeh said. He added that he was "shocked" and "embarrassed" by the incident at Glenn.
"I couldn't really believe that people still act this way," he said.
Shadeh said finding another job has been difficult, "especially in the same type of position and the same type of money that I was making. ... It's trying, to say the least."
Shadeh's attorney, Michael Hanna, said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is the "heart and soul of our civil rights laws in this country."
"Employees need to be (judged) based on their merit. Employers need to be held accountable," he said. "We're going to vigorously litigate this and make sure that Mr. Shadeh's rights are not taken lightly."