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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Muslim former employees at I-95 service station sue Exxon

hree Muslim former employees of the Exxon Mobil gas station on I-95 in Delaware have filed a $12 million federal civil rights suit against the petroleum giant, alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

The suit charges that the three Delaware residents – Sofiene Romdhani, Michelle Maloney and Bobbi Joe Zeller – were targeted by superiors because of their religion at the company-owned and -operated service station at the Delaware rest stop near Newark; that they were refused reasonable accommodations to take off for religious observances and mocked for their faith; and that Exxon Mobil officials ignored their repeated complaints.

“As an equal-opportunity employer, Exxon Mobil is committed to providing a work environment that fosters mutual employee respect and working relationships which are positive and productive,” said Beth Snyder, public affairs adviser for Exxon Mobil.

According to one of the plaintiffs, a regional manager told them, "I'm not here to accommodate your religious beliefs. I am running a business, not a religious community … I don't have to do anything … I'll get each and every one of you out of here."

The Tunisian-born Romdhani, 30, an Arab Muslim who had been manager of the station, claims that the harassment began after his regional manager found out about his ethnic heritage. Later, unlike other station managers, he was required to work seven days a week by this supervisor, the suit says.

Romdhani also charges the regional manager conspired to blame him for mistakes made by others, lied about his performance, undermined his authority as manager by repeatedly and publicly overruling him, denied him a standard salary increase and refused to allow him time off to attend Friday prayers.

He also claims the regional manager mocked his accent and goaded him to resign if he didn't like it, which he ultimately did in the fall of 2006, after working there for three years.

He said Exxon Mobil did nothing to investigate his claims of discrimination, and his charges were later verified by an investigation by the Delaware Department of Labor.

The two female plaintiffs, Zeller, 29, and Maloney, 28, both converted to Islam during the course of their employment at the service station and both alleged that the discriminatory behavior began shortly thereafter.

They both charge that the regional manager told them after Romdhani's departure he was going to "clean house of the people of Sofiene's kind."

The women said they were taunted by both managers and other employees at the station for their religion – one time finding the word "Terrorist" and other profanity scrawled in the cashier's booth where they worked.

Both also allege that management not only refused to make minor accommodations for their faith but ordered them to do things in direct opposition to Islam, like cleaning men's bathrooms.

The women said their complaints to the company were ignored, and Maloney, in the suit, said she felt she had no choice but to resign in August 2007.

Around that time, Zeller claims to have encountered the manager who replaced Romdhani openly reading pornographic magazines in the office. She said in the suit she complained and was fired that same day by the manager for “tardiness.”

The two women also filed charges with the Delaware Department of Labor, but according to the suit, both claims are still being processed.

The suit was filed by the Washington, D.C., firm of Katz, Marshall & Banks with the Wilmington firm of Martin & Wilson as local counsel. The three also worked with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which is supporting the group in their claims.

“Discrimination should not be tolerated in any environment, and those who engage in such unlawful action ... must be held accountable in a court of law,” said Kareem Shora, national executive director of the committee. [Link]

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