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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fired for His Accent, Store Manager Says

CHICAGO (CN) - A furniture store fired a manager on the advice of a consultant who recommended it "replace the managers 'with accents,'" the man of Middle Eastern descent claims in court.

Ashraft Dabbah sued TRP Acquisition, the Roomplace, and assistant managers Timothy Regan and Cecilia Flores, in Cook County Court.

The Roomplace is a furniture store in suburban Arlington Heights. Dabbah claims it lured him away from his job with Wal-Mart, then fired him after "receiving negative social media comments made about stores managers 'with accents.'"

Dabbah claims the president of Roomplace, (nonparty) Bruce Berman, sent him an email on Dec. 18, 2011, stating: "'I'd like to have you back on my team.'"


Dabbah worked for Roomplace's predecessor, Harlem Furniture, for seven years, then left in 2011 to take a higher paying job at Walmart. He wanted to open his own furniture store some day.

Dabbah claims he responded to Berman's email the same day, and that he "expressed concern to Berman about returning to Roomplace based upon the manner in which plaintiff's prior employment was terminated."

The complaint continues: "Plaintiff informed Berman that he had no desire to resign from his secure employment with Walmart or jeopardize his future plans only to face pretextual termination by Roomplace.

"On or about February 8, 2012, Berman informed plaintiff that plaintiff would not face a risk of termination for anything short of stealing from the company."

Dabbah says he accepted Berman's offer and began working for Roomplace in March 2012.

"Upon rejoining Roomplace, plaintiff reported to Ben Macias. Macias was aware of plaintiff's prior plans to open a competing furniture store, and aware that Berman had personally recruited plaintiff to rejoin Roomplace. As a result, Macias distrusted plaintiff and hand-picked [Timothy] Regan to serve as plaintiff's assistant manager and monitor plaintiff's activities.

"Macias further subjected plaintiff to ongoing scrutiny and harassment, repeatedly subjected him to disparate treatment from other Roomplace managers and public criticism.

"Despite being singled out for scrutiny and harassment by Macias, plaintiff performed well as the manager of the Roomplace Arlington Heights location."

Dabbah claims his store ranked third out of 27 in a Sept. 30, 2012, and was the only store "whose numbers increased across the board over the previous year."

However, "Notwithstanding his relative success, plaintiff learned that Roomplace was receiving negative social media comments about store managers 'with accents,'" the complaint states.

"The Roomplace retained a consulting firm to study the issue. The consultant recommended that Roomplace replace the managers 'with accents.'

"As a result, Roomplace began placing increased demands and pressure on its existing managers 'with accents,' and began seeking grounds to terminate their employment.

"On or about September 11, 2012, Roomplace human resources representatives contacted plaintiff and advised plaintiff that unidentified employees from plaintiff's store reported that he was viewing pornography online at work, and creating a hostile work environment.

"Plaintiff was humiliated by this blatantly false accusation. Plaintiff demanded to be advised of the basis of the charge, but no details were provided."

The company fired him on Sept. 24, 2012, on a bogus complaint that he had watched pornography at the office, Dabbah says.

"Until plaintiff received the subject termination notice, plaintiff was not even aware that Regan was one of the employees who allegedly came forward and complained that plaintiff had been viewing pornographic material on the Internet.

"Subsequently, plaintiff received a letter dated September 27, 2012, regarding his right to COBRA. Interestingly, that letter reflects plaintiff's 'coverage under the plan will end on September 16, 2012, due to [e]nd of employment' on that date,'" the complaint states. (Brackets in complaint.)

After he was fired, Dabbah says, he asked for his personnel file, which included emails from Regan to Macias citing "things that have happened that our store is unhappy with."

He claims the file contained email complaints about him from Regan to Macias, stating, for example: "'He walks the floor while using his cell phone and sometimes speaking Arabic. Many times in plain view of customers.'"

Dabbah claims, "the overwhelming majority of the statements made by Regan in his August 30 and September 18 emails were false."

He seeks lost wages and damages for defamation, tortious interference and breach of contract.

He is represented by Daniel Hogan, with McCabe & Hogan, of Palatine.

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