An employee of the L.A. Department of Water and Power is suing the utility, along with four of her colleagues, over what she is calling a years-long campaign of harassment, retaliation and discrimination, stemming from the fact she’s a Muslim.
Saiara Shams, 41, filed a lawsuit in L.A. Superior Court earlier this year, alleging her co-workers made derogatory comments about her religion, retaliated after she reported wasteful contracts and prevented her from moving up the ranks at DWP, the Los Angeles Times reported. Shams also filed complaints with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
DWP spokesman Michael Ventre declined to comment, citing pending litigation. “We take all allegations of discrimination seriously,” he told The Times.
The four co-workers cited in the lawsuit — Ana Romero, Henry Williams, Zebbra Corbin and Glenn Barry — either didn*t respond to requests for comment or declined to comment.
Shams was born in Bangladesh and moved to California in 1997, becoming an American citizen in 2000. When she joined the team that manages the power grid, she said, she was the only Muslim woman in her department. Romero was her boss.
Romero, according to court documents and an interview with The Times, allegedly made fun of Shams’ accent, compared her to Islamic terrorists, told her she “needed to take an English writing class because she was not born in the U.S,” and lamented that she would have rather hired a Latinx person.
The alleged abuse got worse, according to the lawsuit, once other employees got involved. The comments also occurred more frequently if a terrorist attack occurred, Shams said.
Despite repeated complaints, Shams alleges that her bosses at DWP did nothing to stop it or punish those involved, The Times reported.
“If I knew I would be treated like a second-class citizen, then I wouldn’t have spent all these years here,” Shams said through tears in an interview at the office of her attorney Jill Shigut, The Times reported. “How could this happen in California, much less in Los Angeles?”
Her case against DWP is pending, and a trial date has yet to be set.