An Iranian-born Muslim has filed a federal civil rights suit against Hawaiian Telcom, saying he was fired on the basis of his national origin, race and religion.

The lawsuit alleges that Saeed Khosravi-Babadi was mocked for his accent and called “the Mad Iranian” by his boss, Vito Nozza, a Canadian citizen and Hawaii resident and director of solutions engineering at Hawaiian Telcom.

Khosravi-Babadi, also a Canadian national and Hawaii resident, says Nozza made derogatory comments about Muslims while he was near his desk and within earshot.

According to the suit, Nozza reportedly said “he thought then-candidate Donald Trump was right and that the United States should drop a bomb on the Middle East to kill all the Muslim terrorists.”

Hawaiian Telcom payphone Campbell Avenue. 12 sept 2016
Hawaiian Telcom is one of Hawaii’s biggest communications providers, including providing most of the state’s pay phones. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

The suit alleges Nozza and other Hawaiian Telcom employees violated federal civil rights law and state laws against workplace discrimination.

This “verbal abuse” created a hostile work environment, according to the lawsuit. It claims that other Hawaiian Telcom employees in management joined in on the “religious and ethnic harassment.”

Hawaiian Telcom spokeswoman Su Shin said the company would not comment on the lawsuit, but said a complaint Khosravi-Babadi filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was investigated and no violation was found.

The EEOC couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

Mia Obciana, an attorney for Khosravi-Babadi, acknowledged an EEOC complaint was filed but declined to provide details.

According to the lawsuit, under Khosravi-Babadi’s previous boss, who eventually left the company, the plaintiff received raises based on his job performance.

The suit says that Nozza eventually assigned Khosravi-Babadi to a task he wasn’t hired or trained for and “put (him) in a position to fail.”

When Khosravi-Babadi, who holds a masters degree in engineering and numerous certifications, told his boss he was uncomfortable working with unfamiliar technology, Nozza raised his voice at him, saying he was ungrateful for his job.

Nozza didn’t give Khosravi-Babadi a performance review, according to the suit, and he was fired in January 2017 after being put on a job performance improvement program — which the complaint likens to probation.

Khosravi-Babadi is seeking back pay with interest, and compensatory damages for pain, suffering and medical expenses.

The suit also calls for Hawaiian Telcom to stop discriminating against people born in the Middle East, create procedures for addressing harassment, engage its employees in regular training to prevent harassment and create a reporting system for people who have been harassed.

“I think that despite Hawaii generally being a very accepting place, there are still prejudices to be found here,” said Mia Obciana, one of Khosravi-Babadi’s attorneys. “There’s still racism everywhere, it’s not isolated to the mainland.”

Read the full complaint here:

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