Saturday, July 17, 2004

Muslim claims discrimination

Mauritania native's suit says he was denied job at airport

By James McNair
Enquirer staff writer

Ahmed Mohamed, who applied for a security job with Air Serv at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, has filed a discrimination suit against the firm.
HEBRON - With a year of airport security experience, a successful background check and completion of a training course, a 29-year-old Kentuckian thought he was a shoo-in for a security job checking airline cabins.

But after he was offered a janitorial job instead, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And now Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim native of Mauritania, has taken his case to U.S. District Court in Covington, claiming he was discriminated against because of his religion and national origin.

Mohamed, who lives in Erlanger, filed the suit without the help of a lawyer. He is asking that the contractor, Air Serv Corp., be forbidden from violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination due to religion and national origin as well as race, color and sex. He also wants back pay to October 2003, unspecified punitive damages and the job he was allegedly denied.

"I came here because everybody here is treated equally," he said at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport spectator lot. "That's the best thing about this country. If I wanted prejudicial treatment, I would have stayed where I was."

Mohamed said he moved to the United States in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in veterinary science from Al-Fateh University in Tripoli, Libya. While holding down a full-time job as a quality-control technician for a meatpacking plant, he worked a second job checking passengers and luggage at the airport from August 2001 to October 2002.

The part-time work, first with Argenbright Inc., then with Huntleigh USA, ended when the government took over airport security. Because he isn't a U.S. citizen, Mohamed said he wasn't eligible to keep the job.

Last October, he learned about openings at Air Serv for cabin security workers. He said he underwent the background check and a two-day training session.

"According to the job description, it was supposed to be some kind of monitoring of the airplane on the airport grounds when the plane isn't used," said Mohamed. "You didn't need to be a police officer."

After the training, he said Air Serv tried to steer him into two days of janitorial training. He wasn't interested. Pressing for the cabin security job, he said Air Serv repeated over a period of four weeks that it would "get him on the schedule." No job materialized.

Air Serv, headed by former Argenbright Inc. owner Frank Argenbright, is an Atlanta-based contractor to Delta Air Lines. It would not comment on the suit Friday.

"Typically we don't comment on things that are litigated," said Air Serv's chief financial officer, Paul Freischlag.

Argenbright Inc. was the nation's biggest airport security firm in 2002 but fell from grace after the government filed criminal charges alleging the company altered employee work histories, falsified test scores and failed to do background checks on dozens of employees from 1995 to 1999. The company paid $1.55 million in fines.

Discrimination suits have been filed by Arab and Muslim airline passengers, pilots and flight engineers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. But Kareem Shora, director of legal policy for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, D.C., said he has not heard of any such cases filed by ground personnel.

"If the gentleman passed all security checks and completed all of the requirements for the job, they have to give a reasonable cause for not permitting him to do the job," Shora said. "It seems suspicious."


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