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Monday, May 07, 2007

Short-tempered auto-body painter wins settlement after being called 'Bin Laden' on shop floor

It was a rough world inside the Richmond Auto Body Ltd. shop in North Vancouver, where workers put in long hours and often broke the tension with dirty jokes and racial slurs that passed for humour.

But for Shahram Dastghib, who immigrated to Canada in 1989 in search of a better life, that world became increasingly unbearable after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. According to a ruling by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, he then became the focus of a campaign in which two managers - Joel Franske and Pierro (Peter) De Santis - labelled him a terrorist.

According to the findings of the tribunal, he was called Bin Laden on the shop loudspeaker, a poster was put up in the lunchroom identifying him as a wanted terrorist and, although he was at one time regarded as the best auto-body painter in the shop, he was eventually fired, in July 2004, after losing his temper at work.

The tribunal has ruled, however, that Mr. Dastghib was discriminated against both in regard to his conditions of employment and in the termination of his job.

The ruling by tribunal member Diane MacLean gives the parties 60 days to come up with a mutually agreeable financial settlement or have one imposed.

None of the parties could be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Dastghib, who worked 14 hours a day and who rose through the ranks to become the highest-paid painter in the shop, testified that he loved his job, but that he became the butt of insulting slurs after Mr. Franske became manager in 2000.

"Mr. Franske would call him 'Shahram Hussein,' 'camel rider' and 'Baboo,' " wrote Ms. MacLean in her decision.

"After 9/11, Mr. Franske would call him 'Bin Laden' on the loud speaker or would call to say his uncle 'Bin Laden' was on line two. There were also other comments or jokes. These comments were made every day and every week.

"The frequency would depend on what was going on in the Middle East. ... Mr. Dastghib alleges that they made these comments only because he was a Muslim and from the Middle East."

The tribunal heard that after Sept. 11, Mr. Dastghib asked his managers to stop calling him names, but that the practice continued anyway.

"Mr. Dastghib testified that the racial jokes and insults affected him emotionally; he had trouble sleeping and sometimes he had the shakes at night. ... He said that he hated to go to work because of Mr. Franske's and Mr. De Santis' insulting and bad behaviour," wrote Ms. MacLean.

Although Mr. Franske and Mr. De Santis disputed making some of the slurs, Ms. MacLean said witnesses confirmed some of the worst offences - including a poster that was put up in the lunchroom.

"Mr. Franske was responsible for printing out the Internet poster," stated Ms. MacLean. "It attributed the following characteristics to Mr. Dastghib: that he was a terrorist; that he was wanted dead or alive; that he dressed in drag; that he was indicted for a bombing; that he was arrested as a street hooker, bestiality pornographer and selling beer to kids; that he said he committed the crimes because of his love of Bin Laden."

Ms. MacLean described the poster as "a particularly venal document" and said it was clearly discriminatory.

"It would be bad enough for this poster to come from a co-worker, but is much worse when it comes from a manager. In my view, the workplace at Richmond Auto Body's North Vancouver location can be characterized as a 'poisoned workplace,' " she said.

The tribunal heard that Mr. Dastghib was not without faults himself. He had anger-management issues, threw his tools, swore at co-workers and was disciplined for issuing threats. After one "heated argument" in the body shop he was fired.

However, Ms. MacLean said "the discriminatory actions of Mr. Franske and Mr. De Santis ... added to Mr. Dastghib's anger ... and tended to exacerbate his short temper." She concluded that the discrimination he was subjected to was therefore a factor that undermined the company's grounds for dismissing him. [Link]

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