DETROIT— Years after the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) began appealing a Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruling in favor of an Iraqi former bus mechanic who’d endured discrimination, SMART has decided to forego any further appeals.
SMART now must pay Mazyn Barash, 57, of Farmington Hills $503,000.
As a bus mechanic for SMART, Barash, a Chaldean American who was born in Iraq, suffered ethnic intimidation from managers and coworkers after the 9/11 attacks. The abuse only escalated after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Barash was called derogatory names and was referred to often as “Saddam.” He became emotionally distraught when his co-workers chatted about killing Iraqis while in his presence. He also suffered depression and anxiety as a result of workplace discrimination.
On one occasion someone attached a picture of a terrorist to Barash’s time card.
Barash’s discrimination case started in 2003, when he filed his initial complaint with the Civil Rights Commission. In 2011, the commission ruled in Barash’s favor. SMART officials appealed and put him through hearings for almost two years.
Bloomfield Hills Attorney Barry Goldman, the hearing officer on the case, ruled that the ethnic intimidation of Barash was acceptable because of the perceptions many Americans had about Middle Eastern Americans after 9/11. The commission subsequently overturned Goldman’s ruling.
"After years of denial, delay and substantial expenditure of taxpayer dollars, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) has finally decided not to file any additional appeals in this matter and do the right thing — recognize that Mr. Barash was intimidated and harassed in its work environment because of his Iraqi heritage and pay him damages,” Michigan Civil Rights Commission Chair Arthur Horwitz said in a statement issued Tuesday. “The Civil Rights Commission is hopeful that SMART's work environment has become more inclusive and tolerant since Mr. Barash first claimed discrimination.”
Barash emigrated to the U.S. from Iraq to escape religious persecution when he was 9-years-old.
“The healing process for Mazyn and his family can now begin,” said Shereef Akeel, Barash’s attorney.
Akeel said that throughout the whole ordeal Barash has received an immense amount of support from his family.
“The whole family, his wife, sister, daughter and son, were all seeking justice,” Akeel said. “It was not just an affront to Mazyn. It was an affront to his whole family.”
Barash has a 28-year-old son and a 22-year-old daughter.
“My daughter has dealt with this case now for half her life,” he said.
He also said his experience has made him more passionate about fighting discrimination. He plans on getting involved in the civil rights by joining the newly-formed Civil Liberties Advocates (CLA), a group created by members of the Chaldean community. He said that at the time the harassment occurred, there was no group established to handle civil rights cases involving Chaldean Americans.
“I am very passionate about fighting discrimination and I am going to be very involved moving forward,” he said. “And I am going to help anyone who is facing discrimination, not just Arabs and Chaldeans.”
He encourages others who face ethnic intimidation in the workplace to document their experiences and come forward, regardless of the backlash they may experience from co-workers or management.
Barash also suggested that people turn to community organizations for help. He was employed by SMART for 17 years.
“I’m relieved at the fact that SMART admitted to guilt,” Barash said.