A former sales manager for Nicolet Biomedical -- now Viasys NeuroCare -- has won a $1.56 million damage award in a race discrimination case, and he'll get his job back along with a raise.
A seven-member U.S. District Court jury in Madison sided Tuesday with Sami Elestwani, a native of Lebanon, who claimed he lost his job because he is an Arab and a Muslim.
Elestwani was a key account manager for Nicolet Biomedical, handling some of the Fitchburg company's larger clients. He said his supervisor told him in 2002 to take a demotion because his high profile with Nicolet was "not good for the company in light of 9/11."
Elestwani was fired when he reported the remarks to the company's human resources department.
Nicolet denied that any remarks based on Elestwani's ethnic origin were made.
"We are extremely, extremely happy with the result of this, with the jury's verdict," said Madison attorney Michael Fox, one of the lawyers representing Elestwani.
"The main testimony that came out during the trial was that he had done so extremely well, in terms of key account management," Fox said. "The company had profited so greatly from his efforts."
Of the $1.5 million award, $1.4 million was ordered as punitive damages. Fox called that "fairly significant.
"I think the jury, in awarding this (amount), was telling the company, We don't believe you and we think you've intentionally deceived us.'"
Matthew Bennett, general counsel for parent company Viasys Healthcare, in Conshohocken, Pa., said, "We believe that no discrimination took place against Mr. Elestwani. We are currently evaluating the next steps, which include potentially appealing" the jury's decision.
Judge John Shabaz ordered Viasys on Wednesday to reinstate Elestwani to his former job. He is scheduled to return Sept. 6, Fox said, at his old salary of about $76,000 plus a 10 percent raise.
Elestwani currently works for the University of Texas Medical Center as a neurodiagnostic technologist.
\ Contact reporter Judy Newman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-6156.