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Jury Awards $2 Million to Man Fired for Missing Work

Devout Muslim alleged discrimination after his three-day absence for birth of his third child.

September 16, 2003|Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles jury has awarded $2 million to a Muslim courier who was fired for missing three days of work when his third child was born.

Mehmood Darjee, 38, sued Laboratory Corp. of America, alleging religious discrimination and violation of the state's Family Rights Act.

His attorney, Carol L. Gillam, said that last week's verdict should send a message to "workers, particularly in the immigrant community ... that our justice system still works to protect them, despite the otherwise significant loss of liberty many are experiencing in these post- 9/11 times."

The jury of seven men and five women awarded Darjee $150,000 for lost wages, benefits and emotional distress, plus $2 million in punitive damages.

Attorney David J. Fleming, who represents Lab Corp., could not be reached for comment Monday.

Darjee, who immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in 1993, was fired in March 2001, after four years with the company. He earned $8.30 an hour transporting specimens from hospitals and doctors' offices to the lab for processing.

Darjee, a permanent resident seeking his citizenship, was fired a day after his son's birth for violating a company policy that requires two hours' notice for absences.

On the first day of his absence, Darjee testified, his wife was rushed to the emergency room and he was unable to call in to work before his shift began.

His son was born the next day, but his boss refused to approve a day off, even after Darjee reminded the man that he already had scheduled a holiday for that day -- the Feast of Eid, a holy day.

Gillam said her client had been unable to give advance notice of his absence when his wife was unexpectedly hospitalized, but did so the following two days. She said his firing was the result of discrimination.

"They were doing things to Muslims that they weren't doing to anyone else," she said.

Darjee, a devout Muslim who wears a traditional long beard, also had been warned against taking a few minutes each day to pray on the job, Gillam said.

Under state law, Darjee was entitled to time off for parental leave for employees, the lawyer said.

But company officials said he was ineligible because he had worked for the company's new owners for less than a year.

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