KBR, Inc., the massive and controversial Houston-based wartime contractor that has landed billions in military contracts for erecting base camps and supplying fuel for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will have to convince a federal judge in Dallas that race and religion had nothing to do with the firing of a field buyer stationed in Dubai.
In July 2004 Mohammad Alim, an American citizen born in Bangladesh -- and a former AMC Theatres operations manager -- began working in Baghdad for KBR, then a subsidiary of construction giant Halliburton, for which he'd worked two years earlier. At KBR he requisitioned heavy equipment and other materials for the war effort then wrapping up its first violent year. In 2005, he requested a transfer to the company's Dubai office to be nearer to his ailing mother in Bangladesh.
Pretty soon, though, Alim claims he regretted leaving war-wrenched Iraq for the shining Emirati gem. Intolerance and favoritism, he claims in his petition, was endemic in the Dubai office. By July 2006, Alim was terminated for "average work performance," according to the initial complaint, which was filed when Alim was living in Dallas. The real reasons, court filings now claim, were his Bangladeshi accent, his Muslim faith and retaliation when Alim questioned the preferential treatment native-born American employees received and the disparate wages they were paid.
"There was a pay differential between U.S. citizens of native birth and the locals where they were hiring," Alim attorney John Crouch tells Unfair Park today. "They treated my guy as the latter."
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Alim claims he was ridiculed for "his religious practices during the month of Ramadan" and was told by the Dubai HR manager to "go back to wherever you came from."
The same year, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, court documents say. The following year, Alim brought an arbitration claim for breach of an employment contract without justification. The arbitrator found for KBR, but a Dallas appeals court reversed the arbitration award in January. The arbitrator, it found, had failed to disclose previous arbitration with Halliburton, then KBR's parent company. Alim filed an amended petition in June, alleging discrimination and violation of Dubai labor law.
On Friday, KBR filed for the case to be removed to federal court because of the Title VII claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The same day, KBR filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that a federal court can't decide a dispute under labor laws in the United Arab Emirates.
If you aren't familiar with KBR, formerly known as Kellogg, Brown & Root, the company is often in the news for overcharging the government; for winning highly questionable no-bid contracts; for avoiding the hell outta taxes; and for building deadly showers for troops.