A Lebanese engineer and former Ford employee won $16.8 million in a employment discrimination lawsuit against the Big Three automaker.
Dr. Faisal Khalaf filed a lawsuit against Ford and two supervisors for allegedly creating a hostile work environment based on ethnic discrimination.
Khalaf, who was born in Lebanon, alleges that he was retaliated against and terminated due to his accent and Lebanese background. He was employed at Ford from 1999 until September 2015 when he was terminated.
“There was a high-level executive at Ford Motor Co. that my client reported to, that would berate him and criticize him week after week about his English,” said Carol Laughbaum, Khalaf’s attorney to the Detroit Free Press.
The attorney alleges his supervisors — Bennie Fowler and Jay Zhou — created a hostile workplace and subjected Khalaf to “regular and frequent criticism and hostility” over his ability to speak English.
Khalaf earned a “top achiever” performance rating six months before being moved under the supervision of Fowler, the lawsuit said.
Khalaf’s attorney also claims Zhou recommended he take a English as a Second Language class. Khalaf holds a PhD in industrial engineering.
A federal jury ruled in favor of Khalaf and awarded him $15 million in punitive damages, $1.7 million in retirement and pension losses and $100,000 in emotional distress.
In a statement, Ford officials said they did not agree with the verdict.
“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.”