The Maine Human Rights Commission has found that the president and his employees of a Rockport contracting company discriminated against a Muslim man who tried to pray at work.

The man, Salah Elbarbary of Biddeford, was a subcontractor with the Penobscot Co. and told investigators that his co-workers hurled racial slurs at him and his boss, Dave Nazaroff, did nothing to stop the insults nor did he allow Elbarbary to pray while on-site, according to a commission report.

Elbarby initially filed a complaint with the council in April 2020. After he reported the discrimination to the state, the company fired Elbarby, the investigation found.

The investigator, Kit Thomson Crossman, said in the report that Elbarbary prays at set times during the day and has an accent, plus he told people at the job site, including the president, he was from Egypt.

But Crossman wrote in the report that Nazaroff denied knowing Elbarbary was Muslim, but Crossman found that Nazaroff told Elbarbary he could not pray at the job site because it scared other employees.

Early into Elbarbary’s contract, the superintendent of the job asked him why people in Egypt “killed journalists,” Crossman wrote. In another instance, another employee — whom Elbarbary identified as a former U.S. Marine — called Elbarbary a “sand n——-” multiple times, according to the report.

After Elbarbary failed to receive help from his superiors, he wrote to his state representative about the situation but received no response. Then on Nov. 13, 2019, Elbarbary sent a text to Nazaroff asking him to stop his employees from discriminating against him.

“For the last time I am telling u, you have to stop your guys making fun about where I came from and calling me Ben laden it is against the law and the constitution,” Elbarbary said in an excerpt of the message included in the report. “Even the 2 min I tried to pray on my break been hard, I told u in front of the owner and the architect your guys been raises [racist] to me, u didn’t stop that.”

Two days later, when Elbarbary objected to the job site being closed early, the superintendent called the police to remove Elbarbary. The next day Nazaroff sent Elbarbary a letter terminating him for being disruptive, threatening and performing work outside of the scope of his contract, according to Crossman’s findings.

According to the Maine Human Rights Act, it is unlawful for a person to “coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere,” with any person’s right to be free from discrimination based on color, religion, ancestry or national origin in the terms and conditions of employment.

Crossman concluded that Nazaroff and the company harassed and discriminated against Elbarbary.

“This general resistance to being allowed to pray that complainant faced is interference with his right to practice his religion as protected under the MHRA; because Complainant is Muslim, has an Arabic accent, and generally looks like he is from the MENA region, it is also interference with his right to be free from discrimination on the basis of color, national origin, and ancestry,” Crossman stated.

On April 12, 2021, the Maine Human Rights Commission voted in favor of Crossman’s recommendation that there were reasonable grounds that the Penobscot Co. discriminated against Elbarbary and retaliated against him for filing a complaint.

Next, the commission will ask Elbarbary and the Penobscot Co. to resolve the complaints through conciliation, the commission’s executive director, Amy Sneierson, told NBC affiliate News Center Maine.

If a resolution doesn’t happen, Elbarbary can sue the company in Superior Court.

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...