Harassment Suit by Arab-American Deputy Advances

Lake County must face claims by an American of Iraqi descent, who has been a deputy sheriff 24 years that he faced an increasing workplace harassment based on his national origin after the World Trade Center bombings.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers kept alive civil rights claims Thursday that Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Morshed faced a hostile work environment based on harassment for his Iraqi heritage.  But she dismissed claims for discrimination, denial of promotion opportunity and retaliation as a result of his national origin.

Morshed, who was born in Seattle, became a sheriff’s deputy in LakeCounty in 1990, according to the court.

Morshed alleged he was subjected to harassment for his Iraqi origins shortly after he began work, but the harassment allegedly intensified after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York.  Morshed testified he was called “camel jockey,” “raghead,” and “sand nigger,” according to the court.

He was also asked “where is your carpet?” and “where is your red dot?”  [The red dot is a forehead decoration called a bindi and worn by South Asians, generally Hindus in Indian, Bangladesh and Pakistan and has a variety of meanings, but nothing to do with Iraq.]

Morshed also claimed one of his superiors sent him an email link to a video called “Achmed the Dead Terrorist.”

The county disputed the harassment, arguing that all the questioned witnesses denied the incidents.  Although in 2009, the county discovered a number of emails on an office printer that included comments about Morshed’s national origin, Rogers said.

In 2007 the sheriff demoted Morshed from sergeant to deputy after on internal investigation concluded he had sexual relations with another county employee while on duty and in uniform, the opinion states.

He also faced a neglect of duty claim in 2007.  He was called to an assault with injuries and possible gun involvement at a middle school and filed a simple battery report, rather than a more serious charge, according to the court.

He was disciplined with 20 hours of unpaid time off.  He was also not reinstated as a sergeant as a consequence.

The county argues that the ethnic slurs allegedly made regarding Morshed’s Iranian descent were made only by coworkers, and that plaintiff never made a complaint about the comments.  It also argued that it cannot be held liable if it is shown that a supervisor witnesses discriminatory comments.

“The county’s argument fails both on the facts and the law,” Rogers wrote.

While evidence that his work environment was abusive or hostile “is somewhat equivocal” it nevertheless could support a finding that he felt it was abusive, she said.

Case: Morshed v. County of Lake, No. 13-cv-521YGR


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