Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names could make me a millionaire.
A federal jury awarded $4.7 million to a Yemeni-born man punched out and bullied by a co-worker who had repeatedly called him “Bin Laden” and “terrorist.”
Osama Saleh was earning $7.15 per hour as a stock clerk at the Pretty Girl women’s clothing store on Knickerbocker Ave. in Brooklyn, but now he’s a millionaire because his bosses did nothing to stop the taunting and references to Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“Being called a terrorist and Bin Laden is like an insult and a slur against me and my race,” Saleh, 27, told the Daily News after Friday’s verdict in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Saleh’s tormentor was James Robinson, a black security guard at the store who also ranted that he hated Arabs because they were “dirty” and that Saleh should go back to Yemen.
Robinson pleaded guilty to assault for the attack in the store basement that left Saleh with a fractured cheekbone, and never responded to the lawsuit.
The store’s managers dismissed Saleh’s complaints, saying the banter at the Bushwick store was nothing more than kidding around among the employees.
Pretty Girl vice president Victor Lavy testified that, in his opinion, being called “Bin Laden” was no big deal.
“It’s not a bad name, it’s a name,” Lavy said. “They were teasing each other by calling the names. They’re playing.”
Lavy added that it was neither inappropriate nor a violation of the company’s code for Robinson to call the plaintiff “Bin Laden.”
Obviously, the jury did not agree.
“That level of disregard is so dangerous in a multicultural society,” Saleh’s lawyer Fred Brewington said outside court.
A judge set a deadline for the store owner to file a motion to reduce the verdict. A lawyer for the store said she would discuss that option with her client, but declined further comment about the $4.7 million windfall.
Saleh’s award covers emotional distress, assault, negligence in the hiring of Robinson and punitive damages. Saleh claims he still suffers hearing problems and difficulty chewing and eating as a result of the knockout blow.
A federal jury in Detroit awarded a Muslim man $1.2 million in February. Ali Aboubaker claimed he was called a terrorist and repeatedly passed over for promotions while working for Washtenaw County for 17 years.
The county denied discriminating against Aboubaker and vowed to appeal.