A former manager at a Best Buy store in Northern Virginia says he was fired for refusing to profile customers as part of a theft-prevention program at the company, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court last week.
Majeed "Todd" Abed, of Fredericksburg, Va., says the Best Buy stores in his region started taking part in the company's "Be On the Look Out" program, known by employees as BOLO, in 2008. According to Abed, employees would circulate emails with photos and descriptions of potential shoplifters. The emails, the lawsuit alleges, "consistently involved racial and ethnic minorities who had done nothing to merit suspicion."
Two examples of customer descriptions cited in the lawsuit are "bearded Middle Eastern guy who looked shady" and "black ghetto guy."
Abed, an Arab-American Muslim, refused to take part in the profiling, according to the lawsuit. He claims that his defiance led to harassment from coworkers and ultimately the derailment of his 13-year career with Minnesota-based Best Buy, the largest electronics retailer in the U.S.
Abed told a superior that he believed the program engendered discrimination against customers. In response, the suit claims, the superior informed employees that profiling could lead to legal problems for Best Buy, but she nonetheless told Abed "to post the BOLO emails anyway."
Abed claims that after he started opposing the "Be On the Look Out" program he was told by another superior that he was "not capable" of succeeding at the company, despite the fact that he had received company awards and promotions over the years.
He was soon passed over for two promotions and received a warning for "unacceptable performance," according to the lawsuit. He also claims that a colleague began discriminating against him for his Muslim beliefs, deliberately ordering ham sandwiches for a staff meeting and urging Abed to eat one.
Abed tried to transfer to a Best Buy store outside the region but was instead fired for poor performance, the lawsuit alleges.
Claiming retaliation, wrongful termination and religious discrimination, Abed is seeking $1 million in back pay and damages. He is also requesting a court order that would end Best Buy's "Be On the Look Out" program.
Abed declined to comment on the lawsuit through his lawyer, Timothy Clinton. A spokesperson for Best Buy said the company would not comment on pending litigation and declined to say whether "Be On the Look Out" is in fact a Best Buy practice.
Abed is not the first Best Buy employee to sue the company for discrimination. Two weeks ago the company settled a large class-action lawsuit filed in 2005 in which eight employees and one applicant claimed the company denied jobs and promotions to African-American, Latino and female candidates because of their race or gender.
As part of the settlement in that case, Best Buy agreed to pay a total of $290,000 to the plaintiffs and up to $10 million in legal fees. The company also agreed to establish an electronic registry that would allow all employees to see vacant positions within the company.
UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: Read the court documents below.