Attorney: Discrimination case against Bridgeport company ‘sets example’

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BRIDGEPORT - A federal jury has awarded two Connecticut men more than $3 million, in a race discrimination and hostile environment case against Bridgeport Company, Safety Marking, Inc.

An attorney on the case, Lewis Chimes, said Friday's outcome is setting an example for what will and won’t be tolerated in the workplace by the state.

Yosif Bakhit, of Bridgeport, and Kiyada Miles, of Trumbull, were awarded $1.5 million each in punitive damages.

The men were also awarded more than $390,000 in compensatory damages in the suit against the company and several of its employees.

The total verdict was approximately $3.4 million, according to Chimes, and it’s anticipated that the court’s award of fees and costs will bring the total recovery to over $4 million.

The plaintiffs' case included claims of race discrimination in the terms and condition of their employment, between 2009-2012, and a hostile environment to persons of color.

“You know the 'n' word, being compared to a black doll,” Chimes said referring to Bakhit. “A lot of jokes of him being from Africa, climbing trees, bananas, a whole lot of awful stuff that clearly made it significant.”

Bakhit shared a picture with his co-workers of his brother at the Olympics alongside Usain Bolt, and according to the complaint his supervisor texted him a picture of the man chasing a white girl holding fried chicken.

Chimes said he was in disbelief, that this type of “Jim Crow racism,” still exists.

Bakhit, a native of Sudan, is Muslim. Miles is African-American.

According to Chimes, Miles initially came forward as a witness, and later as a co-plaintiff. Miles also saw and experienced racist comments and behavior in the work place.

The complaint also stated neither men were promoted, although their white co-workers were advanced.

“Neither Bakhit or Miles got training that would enable them to be promoted,” Chimes said.

Lewis said Bakhit complained several times and in 2012 the counsel requested the company investigate his allegations.

Attorneys for Safety Markings, about a month later, responded to the complaint in a letter saying in part:

“In short, further investigation has not produced any corroboration that your client was discriminated against or received harassing or hostile treatment based on his race, national origin, or religion. Out of an abundance of caution, my client will be arranging for anti-discrimination and sensitivity training for its foremen. Respectfully, however, SMC will not be taking any remedial action with respect to Mr. Bakhit himself as requested in your letter.”

Chimes said the jury was all-white, and the result of this two-week case, speaks volumes.

“It sends a clear message that in this state when we see it, really outrageous racism in the workplace we're not gonna tolerate it,” he said. " I think this also sends a very strong message for employers that you need to take this obligation seriously."

FOX 61 reached out to Safety Marking, Inc. but has not heard back from the company.