DMC sued for ethnic harassment
By Khalil AlHajal - The Arab American News | Friday, 03.21.2008, 04:11 PM


DETROIT In response to a discrimination lawsuit filed by a Macomb Township Arab American against the Detroit Medical Center, a top hospital official has defended the atmosphere at the facility as one of tolerance and diversity, while a Council on American Islamic Relations official has cited complaints of a "racially polarized environment" at the hospital.

The suit, filed March 5 against the DMC, Children's Hospital of Michigan and the director of the hospital's Poison Control Center, alleges religious and ethnic harassment and unlawful termination.

Plaintiff Yasser Sharif, 36, worked as a poison information specialist at the center for three years before being fired in November.

Sharif alleges in the suit that Dr. Susan Smolinske, director of the hospital's Regional Poison Control Center, said to another employee that Sharif was capable of a Virginia Tech-like shooting, and demoted him after Sharif alerted hospital officials of dangerous scheduling problems that included understaffing during peak calling hours.

The suit states that on Nov. 30, Smolinske called him a "stupid Arab" and told human resources that Sharif physically threatened her. He was fired later that day.

Dr. Herman Gray, president of Children's Hospital, said that he was very concerned about the allegations and personally looked into the incident, determining that Sharif was fired on legitimate grounds.

He said he couldn't further discuss specifics of the lawsuit, but insisted that the hospital strives to maintain a warm and welcoming environment.

"It just runs counter to what we try to espouse in our organization," he said.

Gray said that he understands the impact of prejudice and bias on a personal level, as the son of a Jamaican doctor who faced discrimination as an African American surgeon.

"Like any large organization of people," he said, "there are always things that happen between people."

He said that if something happened between Sharif and his co-workers, it was an isolated incident, not representative of the hospital's work environment.

But CAIR-Michigan Director Dawud Walid said that Sharif's complaints were not the first he's heard about that particular workplace.

"It may not be the whole environment of the DMC," he said, but two other Poison Control Center employees, an African American and another Muslim, have described an atmosphere filled with racial division and intimidation from management.

CAIR referred Sharif to well-known civil rights attorney Shereef Akeel after looking into the accusations.

Walid said that efforts were made by Akeel and CAIR to settle the dispute without filing the suit, appealing to hospital officials to discuss reinstating Sharif.

"They havent done anything," Walid said. "They weren't even interested enough to contact us back."

Gray said that Arab Americans make up a large portion of both the employees at the Poison Control Center, and the patients treated at the DMC, being in close proximity to Dearborn and Detroit's Seven Mile Road and Woodward Avenue-area.

He said that every effort is made to make the hospital a welcoming and inclusive place, and that in his two and a half years as president of Children's Hospital, he never detected any religious, ethnic or racial tensions.

He said the accusations represent "the opposite of what we want to be recognized for."

By Khalil AlHajal - The Arab American News

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