A jury has awarded $3.2 million to a Muslim who claims he was harassed for years by his supervisors at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Calif., and eventually fired because of his beliefs.
Hugo Lizzagra, 44, worked in the hospital’s warehouse for 20 years, reports the Press Enterprise.
“We are happy this hard-working jury resolved this injustice in his [Lizarraga] favor,” Lizzagra’s attorney Todd Harrison said. “He was courageous for many years and stood up to Loma Linda, which is the largest employer in San Bernardino County. This is truly a David-versus-Goliath story.”
The hospital, however, disagrees with the jury’s decision saying they did not fire Lizzagra for religious beliefs, but because he was reported for threatening conduct.
“LLU Medical Center complies with and honors federal and state law regarding discrimination and harassment and does not tolerate it in the workplace,” a hospital spokesperson said.
According to the lawsuit filed in 2016, Lizzagra was a victim of religious and disability discrimination by two of his supervisors, Jerry Strode and Jose Gonzalaz, as well as employees in the HR department. He was fired in March 2016.
Lizzagra says he worked in the hospital for over ten years without experiencing any harassment. It started in 2012 when he converted to Islam, broke his thumb and was given more limited duties per instructions from his physician.
The complaint claims Strode and Gonzalez referred to Lizzagra as a terrorist and complained he was “too slow” at work.
“Mr. Strode and/or Mr. Gonzalez often told the plaintiff, ‘Why don’t you quit?’ or ‘You are going to get fired anyway’,” the complaint said.
Lizzagra also claims that after his thumb healed, his supervisors increased his workload with tasks that should have been given to other employees.
“Despite this unreasonable and unfair workload, the plaintiff still completed it,” the lawsuit said. “Still, Mr. Strode and Mr. Gonzalez would unjustly complain to the plaintiff that he was too slow and continued to tell him that he should quit.”
The suit also claims that when Lizzagra complained to the hospital’s HR department, they “ignored plaintiff’s complaints,” and told Lizzagra “nothing would be done and that the plaintiff should just go back to work.”
Several employees supported Lizzagra’s claims about Strode, who was fired from the hospital in 2015.
In February 2016, Lizzagra was asked by a San Bernardino deputy if he had made terrorist threats against the hospital.
It was later revealed to Lizzagra that a co-worker had accused him of talking about a terrorist shooting at a nearby hospital that killed 14 people and how he would have done things differently if he was the shooter.
Lizzagra was suspended from the hospital despite denying making any terrorist threats.
The deputy determined Lizzagra did not pose a threat or have a criminal record, but the hospital kept him on administrative leave.
In March 2016, Lizzaagra was fired from LLU Medical Center.
Harrison believes the hospital used the terrorist shooting as an excuse to terminate Lizzagara.
“They hospital preyed on the fears about Muslims in the shooting which occurred only a block from the warehouse where Lizzagra worked,” he said. “An official testified at trial that Lizzagra’s religion was considered in deciding whether he should be fired. And that sealed the deal with the jury.”
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