AUBURN, Maine — A Lisbon man of Ethiopian descent who worked at Walmart in Lewiston for four years is suing his former employer, claiming the company discriminated against him because of his race and in retaliation for his complaint about discrimination and a workplace injury.
Wal-Mart denied a complaint made to the Maine Human Rights Commission.
Abdulaziz Omar filed a civil complaint last week in Androscoggin County Superior Court against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. In the complaint, he states that his supervisor, in 2009, treated him less favorably than workers who were not black. He started working at the company’s receiving location in Lewiston in 2006.
His supervisor had called Omar into his office and asked him where he was from. When Omar said he was Ethiopian, his supervisor said he didn’t feel comfortable having Omar around the desk. His supervisor also asked Omar whether he spoke English. Those actions made Omar “feel uncomfortable and targeted” because of his race, the complaint says.
Omar’s repeated complaints to the operations manager about his supervisor were unanswered, Omar said in his lawsuit.
Omar’s complaint to the company’s human resources department resulted in the erasure of his low performance ratings due to his supervisor’s discriminatory treatment, he said.
His supervisor continued to discriminate against Omar, assigning him to tasks that resulted in a “lower production rate” than his co-workers, he said.
In March 2010, Omar was injured on the job. He reported the injury to his supervisor, he said. His supervisor told him not to seek medical attention because it would cost the company a lot of money, Omar said. His supervisor didn’t report Omar’s injury.
A month later, still in pain, Omar talked about his injury with the operations manager, who said he would investigate, but never did, Omar said.
In April, Omar’s supervisor disciplined him for doing something on the job that other employees had done and had not been disciplined for, he said. When Omar refused to sign a document noting the disciplinary action, his supervisor told Omar he’d be deported.
He complained to the human resources department about his supervisor and operations manager, but no action was taken, he said.
Two months later, he was fired after an error surfaced that he was blamed for, but didn’t commit, he said.
Omar filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in 2011. Last year, an investigator at the Commission found no reasonable grounds for his complaints of discrimination and retaliation.
A legal representative for Wal-Mart denied the company unlawfully discriminated or retaliated against Omar. The company had “many performance issues” with Omar before he was fired, attorney Angela Cummings said. Omar’s discipline was consistent with disciplinary action taken against other non-African/Ethiopian workers, she said. He was fired because he “falsified safety information which could have endangered another” worker, she said.
Because Omar didn’t seek workers’ compensation benefits while he was working for Walmart, he didn’t receive immediate medical care, she said.
Omar sued for compensatory damages for pain and suffering, psychological upset and interference with the enjoyment of life, as well as for punitive damages.
He is also seeking attorneys’ fees and fees for expert witnesses.