BROOKLYN —A federal jury awarded $4.7 million to Osama Saleh, a Yemeni American who was punched and bullied by a co-worker who had repeatedly called him “Bin Laden” and “terrorist.”
Saleh went from earning $7.15 per hour as a stock clerk at the Pretty Girl women’s clothing store on Knickerbocker Ave. in Brooklyn to being a millionaire because of his bosses’ negligence in stopping a hostile work environment.
“Being called a terrorist and Bin Laden is like an insult and a slur against me and my race,” Saleh, 27, told the New York Daily News after Friday’s verdict in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Saleh’s tormentor was James Robinson, a Black security guard at the store who also ranted that he hated Arabs because they were “dirty” and that Saleh should go back to Yemen.
Robinson pleaded guilty to assault for the attack in the store basement that left Saleh with a fractured cheekbone and never responded to the lawsuit.
Pretty Girl vice president Victor Lavy testified that, in his opinion, being called “Bin Laden” was no big deal.
“It’s not a bad name, it’s a name,” Lavy said. “They were teasing each other by calling the names. They’re playing.”
Lavy added that it was neither inappropriate nor a violation of the company’s code for Robinson to call the plaintiff “Bin Laden.”
“That level of disregard is so dangerous in a multicultural society,” Saleh’s lawyer Fred Brewington said outside court.
The store’s managers dismissed Saleh’s complaints, saying the tormenting was friendly banter. But a federal jury disagreed.
A judge set a deadline for the store owner to file a motion to reduce the verdict. A lawyer for the store said she would discuss that option with her client, but declined further comment.
Saleh’s award covers emotional distress, assault, negligence in the hiring of Robinson and punitive damages. Saleh claims he still suffers hearing problems and difficulty chewing and eating as a result of the knockout blow.