Los Angeles Daily Journal - 9/12/02 - Muslim Settles Claim Against Proselytizing Christian Boss

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AttorneyLOS ANGELES DAILY JOURNAL - 9/12/02 - MUSLIM SETTLES CLAIM AGAINST PROSELYTIZING CHRISTIAN BOSS - ENGINEER SAYS HE RECEIVED E-MAILS LABELED 'JESUS IS HOLY'

Claims by a Muslim engineer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power that he was harassed or for years by his boss, a proselytizing Christian, have led to a cash settlement, the supervisor's suspension and a new sensitivity at the utility.

The city attorney is reluctant to discuss the case, and the claimant's attorney won't give any details.

According to documents obtained under the California Public Records Act, Mahrous "Ross" Moustafa says he received e-mails from the supervisors that were titled, "Jesus is the only acceptable object of saving faith," and contained statements such as, "sin must be punished with the shedding of blood."

The supervisor began his "crusade" to convert Moustafa to born-again Christianity in December 1996, according to a letter by Moustafa's attorney, Toni J. Jaramilla, which was sent to the DWP's legal department last year.

Moustafa complained to management, which did nothing, Jaramilla says. Eventually, Moustafa filed a claim against the city, which was settled for $175,000 in February. Moustafa alleges that he was harassed and discriminated against because of his national origin and religion, according to the settlement agreement.

The DWP denied any misconduct and disputed the merits of Moustafa's claim but decided to settle the claim to save resources, according to the agreement.

The supervisor's name has not been released because personnel matters aren't public record, according to Deputy City Attorney Daniel Lowenthal. After an investigation, the supervisor was suspended for four days, and two others in the department were disciplined, Lowenthal says.

Jaramilla hasn't disclosed her client's identity or workplace because she says she wants to protect the 58-year-old Egyptian native, who still has been transferred to a different division, she says.

"It started off with casual discussion about religion, about Christianity," Jaramilla, a sole practitioner working in Century City, says. "Then it evolved into a daily crusade to convert him into Christianity."

After Moustafa complained, the supervisor told him he would "go to hell" if he didn't "find God," Jaramill's letter states.

The supervisor also sent e-mails about the violence in the Middle East, one of which warned of alleged "terrorist attacks [from the Middle East] that will soon strike innocent victims inside America," the letter states.

The e-mails cited in the letter were sent before Sept. 11, 2001.

The e-mails also labeled Iran a sponsor of "state terrorism" that had turned the Gulf into a "slaughterhouse," the letter states.

Some were titled, "Jesus is God," "Jesus is holy," "Jesus is the Savior," "Jesus is Lord" and "Jesus is the Judge," the letter states.

"They were absolutely horrendous," Jaramilla says.

Moustafa tried to ignore the harassment at first, she says. The supervisor asked him to attend born-again Christian meetings, but Moustafa told him that he was happy with his Islamic religion, Jaramilla says.

The supervisor kept badgering him, which eventually prompted Moustafa to report the harassment. But DWP managers ignored his complaints, Jaramilla says.

"They kind of just accepted the fact that he is born-again Christian fanatical," she says.

Moustafa began feeling ill, his blood pressure rose, and he dreaded going to work, Jaramilla says.

According to Jaramilla's letter, the supervisor also denied Moustafa the opportunity to earn overtime pay, a benefit "generally" available to other engineers in the department.

Moustafa didn't get projects he sought and was qualified for and, instead, often was assigned to "undesirable and distant locations," the letter states.

But by "no coincidence," another engineer, who also was born-again Christian, got overtime pay and the desirable projects, the letter states.

The supervisor also retaliated against Moustafa by rejecting his business proposals, only to implement them later and take credit for them, the letter says.

In 2000, the supervisor was promoted. Jaramilla says. But the supervisor instructed his replacement to keep a close eye on Moustafa, "again searching for a reason to terminate Mr. Moustafa," the letter states.

Moustafa began working for the DWP in 1980. His lawyer says he agreed to settle his claim to avoid being "engulfed" in litigation.

Lowenthal says, "I'm appreciative that the aggrieved employee was helpful in assisting the city to take appropriate personnel action against the harasser."

Jaramilla says her client's workplace is much better now.

"A lot of heads rolled, " she says. "Particularly, when Sept.11 hit, the company was real cognizant making sure there was no backlash against their Middle Eastern and Muslim employees."

Jaramilla specializes in employment law and says she refuses to work for a big firm because she likes to decide which cases to pursue.

"I can help individuals that don't have a big claim, but they were wronged," she says. "Big firms tend to only want the huge cases."