Two Connecticut men win more than $3 million in race discrimination case against Bridgeport company
By Anna Bisaro, New Haven Register
A federal jury Friday awarded more than $1.5 million each in punitive damages to two men who had filed discrimination and hostile work environment charges against a Bridgeport-based highway and road marking company.
Yosif Bakhit of Bridgeport and Kiyada Miles of Trumbull also were awarded a combined total of more than $390,000 in compensatory damages as a result of the lawsuit filed more than two years ago against Safety Marking Inc. and a number of the company’s employees in U.S. District Court in New Haven.
Bakhit and Miles both have worked for Safety Marking, a company that provides highway and road marking services for highways, tunnels, bridges and airports, since 2008 and argued in the case that they have been subject to discrimination based on their race and background, their attorney said.
“We think this is a significant verdict,” said Lewis Chimes, one of the attorneys for Bakhit and Miles. “It says in our community that we are not going to put up with this type of behavior.”
The entire jury for the two-week trial was white, Chimes said.
Because of the Easter holiday, a spokesperson was unavailable Friday at Safety Marking for comment. Defense attorneys working for Safety Marking in this case said there would be an appeal, but declined to comment further on the case.
Bakhit is Muslim and a native of Sudan. He was granted political immunity to come to the U.S. several years ago, Chimes said. Miles is African American.
Both men “suffered severe racial harassment,” Chimes said. “It was really horrible stuff.”
Bakhit and Miles alleged in the complaint that persons of color or Middle Eastern descent often were subject to racial insults and these instances were never corrected or dealt with by management. Foremen allegedly also regularly sent racist jokes via text to each other about the two men, according to the complaint.
When Bakhit reported instances where he felt discriminated against or felt he was working in a hostile environment, he continued to be assigned to work in the same job sites, under the same supervisors, the complaint states.
In 2011, Bakhit reported an incident in which he was asked by a foreman to open an aspirin bottle. When Bakhit opened the bottle and pulled out the piece of cotton above the pills, the foreman allegedly said, “I just wanted to see a black man pick cotton.”
Later that year, Miles reported an incident in which a co-worker intentionally sprayed white paint on his arm and then proceeded to tell him, “That’s the only way you are going to move up in the company,” according to the complaint.
After years of being the subject of racist jokes and comments, and other forms of discrimination, the last event that triggered Bakhit to seek to make a formal complaint occurred in August 2012.
According to the complaint, Bakhit’s brother ran for the Sudan National Team in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Bakhit encouraged his co-workers to watch the events. Then, one evening, Bakhit reportedly received a text message from a superior that had a picture of Bakhit’s brother chasing a white woman who was carrying fried chicken, the complaint states.
Though Bakhit and Miles filed official complaints with the company, neither was interviewed by the company during the investigation, Chimes said. And that was when they decided to file the lawsuit.
Chimes said that both men, despite having worked at Safety Marking since 2008, were never promoted. Chimes said that they saw others who were less qualified make more money and receive promotions.
Chimes said that both Bakhit and Miles were thrilled with the jury’s verdict.
“We are just very pleased that the jury saw this for what it was, which was outrageous behavior,” Chimes said. “I think it’s a wonderful statement that Connecticut does not tolerate this.”