A federal jury awarded Faisal G. Khalaf, a former Ford employee, $16.8 million for being discriminated against for his Arab background at work.
According to the lawsuit, the mistreatment began in June 2012 when Khalaf was put under supervision of Bennie Fowler, then-group vice president of quality and new model launch. Fowler repeatedly criticized Khalaf about his ability to speak and understand English and placed him in “demeaning positions” and assigned him “unrealistic work goals.”
In February 2013, after Khalaf advised one of his direct reports to speak to human resources about a sexual harassment complaint, he was demoted by Fowler.
“It was so obvious that he was done,” Carol Laughbaum, Khalaf’s attorney, said. “They decided you’re done, you’re complaining, we’re just giving you completely ridiculous objectives.”
The unfair treatment continued for almost a year. When he went to human resources in April 2014 to report the discrimination he was facing, they placed him on a retaliatory performance enhancement plan. One of the recommendations for Khalaf was to take an English as a Second Language class.
In June 2014, the company put Khalaf on medical leave because of workplace stress. The following January, he filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
Khalaf tried to return to work that year, but the company put him on unpaid leave and officially terminated him in September 2015.
The jury determined that the actions of Khalaf’s supervisors Fowler and Jay Zhou were so damaging that they award him $15 million in punitive damages and $1.7 million in retirement and pension losses and $100,000 for emotional distress.
“I think the jury was pretty appalled by what they heard, and the verdict reflects this,” Laughbaum said.
A representative from Ford said the company disagrees with the verdict and looking for ways to get it corrected.
“We don’t believe that the facts in this case support the verdict,” Brad Carroll, corporate communications manager for Ford, said in a statement. “Ford is committed to creating an environment that promotes diversity and inclusion within our workforce and communities. The diverse backgrounds of our employees truly make us a stronger company and we are extremely proud of our policies and programs that support equality.”
This isn’t the first time Ford has been accused of discrimination. In August 2017, the company agreed to settle sexual and racial discrimination claims at two Chicago plants for $10.1 million.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated the claims and had reason to believe that Ford personnel harassed female and black employees and retaliated against them when they complained about the treatment.
Ford said in a statement that it “chose to voluntarily resolve this issue without any admission of liability with the EEOC to avoid an extended dispute,” and is committed to a “zero-tolerance, harassment-free work environment” at all its facilities.