Muslim Woman Won Case But May Not Get $5 Million Verdict

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Muslim woman who won a five million dollar verdict from a jury Thursday in a hostile work environment lawsuit says she is thrilled with the outcome of the case.

But she's not happy that a state law may prevent her from ever being able to collect that check.

Susann Bashir says she's pleased the jury agreed with her that she endured a hostile work environment at Southwestern Bell. In Bashir's lawsuit, she says coworkers and supervisors asked if she would blow up the building, left bible verses on her desk, and mocked her headscarf. She left work and refused to return when she says a supervisor tried to take the scarf off her head.

The jury not only gave Bashir 120-thousand dollars in back pay for actual damages, but also gave her five million dollars in punitive damages. Bashir says that sends a message to companies to take this issue seriously, and it sends a message to employees too.

"I think it was a victory, it was a victory for everyone, every little person who is worried about stepping forward, every person who has been harassed, it was a great victory," Bashir said.

However, Missouri's legislature have passed a law limiting punitive damages to five times the amount of actual damages. In Bashir's case that would be 600-thousand dollars. The Missouri Supreme Court recently upheld that law in a case before the court in January.

Bashir says she would be disappointed if the court rules to cap her damages, because she says it undermines the jury's decision.

"Otherwise it's meaningless, it's like a hollow punishment, you tell someone you punish them but then they get laws passed to keep them from being punished," Bashir said, "I think that's a structure set up to benefit large corporations because that's the only people it would help."

Southwestern Bell's parent company AT&T released a statement promising to appeal the jury's verdict. The company says it is proud of its workplace diversity programs and has received national recognition for those programs.

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