SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah truck driver contends global shipping giant FedEx had him fired because he speaks with a Russian accent.
Ismail Aliyev claims in a federal lawsuit that an officer at a weigh station in Iowa had trouble understanding him due to his accent and issued him a warning citation in August 2011. One of the requirements of holding a commercial driver's license is the ability to communicate.
Aliyev notified his employer, Salt Lake City-based GNB Trucking, which contracts with FedEx. Three weeks later, GNB fired him "based on instructions from an employee of FedEx to whom plaintiff had never spoken," according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
The suit claims Aliyev was fired because of his ancestry and ethnicity. "The termination of plaintiff because of his accent is in effect a termination because of his national origin," the lawsuit claims.
"It think it sends the message that his hard work and desire to improve himself is not appreciated," said Aliyev's attorney, Robert Wilde. Aliyev, he said, emigrated from Russia and is now a U.S. citizen.
According to the lawsuit, Aliyev offered to fly to FedEx's corporate offices to allow it to listen to his speech but the company declined. His English is "more than sufficient" to work in the trucking industry, according to the suit. Aliyev is currently self-employed but making significantly less money, Wilde said.
"He's got a thick accent but he's very understandable," Wilde said.
Aliyev contends he was fired as the result of FedEx's failure to ascertain his ability to speak English because the company had stereotyped him.
In a statement, FedEx Ground confirmed that Aliyev was a driver for one of its independent contractors, but had no comment on the complaint. "We are currently reviewing the details of the case but have no further information at this time," according to the statement.
Wilde said he'd like to see Aliyev get his job back and recoup his lost pay. In addition, he said he hopes the suit attunes society to the needs of hard-working immigrants.
"I just think this case is important because of the hope we hold that if people come and work hard their efforts will be rewarded," he said. "When something like this happens, it undermines what I think America stands for."
GNB Trucking acknowledged that Aliyev is a "really good driver" and that it had no conflict with him, according to the lawsuit. The company tried to rehire him but FedEx would not let him work, the suit says.
Aliyev says losing his job caused him embarrassment, humiliation and anxiety. He is suing for an unspecified amount in lost wages and general and punitive damages.