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Fired Palestinian claims store wrongfully accused her

Published Friday, Dec. 7, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

BY HOWARD MINTZ



A Palestinian woman has sued Macy's for firing her from the department chain's Westfield Shoppingtown Valley Fair store, alleging that she lost her sales job because she was wrongly accused of making anti-American statements in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Alia Atawneh alleges that discrimination was behind Macy's decision to fire her in October, after she allegedly was the target of aggressive questioning by company officials about her political views of the terrorist attacks.

Macy's corporate officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Atawneh alleges that she was confronted by her store managers after a customer in the men's department berated her on Sept. 27, telling her she ``had no right to work in this country'' and that her ``people'' were behind the attacks, according to the lawsuit. The customer then demanded a meeting with Atawneh's manager, who later asked Atawneh her ``opinion'' of the attacks, the suit maintains.

The manager later instructed Atawneh not to discuss Sept. 11-related issues in the workplace, the suit states. Atawneh, who has been in the United States several years and lives with her Palestinian husband, a U.S. citizen, had told her boss she was ``horrified and angered'' by the attacks.

But several weeks later, the suit says, Macy's officials fired Atawneh because several co-workers had told them she said ``America deserved it'' the day after the attacks. In the lawsuit, Atawneh denied ever saying that, recounting a conversation in which other employees demanded her opinion about a well-publicized video of Palestinian children reportedly celebrating the attacks. Her response, the suit said, was simply to tell her co-workers that Palestinian children have hard lives, and they are told ``all their problems result from United States support of Israel.''

San Jose attorney Michael Hurley, who represents Atawneh, said his client does not harbor anti-American sentiment, and was singled out after the confrontation with the customer. ``She didn't want to have that conversation with the customer,'' Hurley said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for employment discrimination.

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