The restaurant manager from Morocco, the Armenian caterer from Syria and the Yemeni sailor aren’t all Muslims and hail from different homelands. But all three say they suffered discrimination at work after Sept. 11, 2001, because of their national origin or perceptions that they were Muslim.
Now, they are among those who have filed lawsuits through the California offices of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – reflecting increasing discrimination against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, according to advocacy groups.
“I did not think this would happen when I came here,” said Abdellatif Hadji, who moved from Morocco to the United States in 1989 and recently filed an EEOC suit against a Mendocino County restaurant where he was a manager. “America is the land of opportunity.”
Reports of workplace discrimination against people perceived to be Muslim or Arab soared after the Sept. 11 attacks and then declined, government statistics indicate. But some advocates say they’ve seen a resurgence in the last year that corresponds to global political events.
“Anytime there’s anything in the news . . . that is related to the Middle East, you see a spike in hate-motivated and employment-related incidents,” said Kareem Shora, director of the legal department of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
After 9/11, the EEOC introduced a category of employment discrimination against people who are or are perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian or Sikh. Nationwide statistics from the EEOC indicate that such complaints – so far exceeding 1,000 – have decreased each year since 2002.
However, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations says it processed more civil-rights and workplace discrimination complaints in 2005 than ever before. The annual total jumped to 1,972 in 2005 from 1,522 in 2004. The discrepancy may indicate that victims fear reporting discrimination to the government.
“We only see the tip of the iceberg,” said Joan Ehrlich, district director of the EEOC office in San Francisco. “It’s probably not even reflective of the amount of discrimination going on because people are afraid to come to the government for help.”