Dearborn Employee Fired for Anti-Muslim Posting on Sports Illustrated Model
SOURCE: DETROIT FREE PRESS
BY: NIRAJ WARIKOO
The Dearborn employee who slurred Muslims in a Facebook post was fired Wednesday for his remarks and for trying to cover up his actions by claiming that he had been hacked.
“Bill Larion no longer works for the City of Dearborn,” the city said in a statement.
On Saturday, Larion, 58, had posted on Facebook a comment that a Muslim swimsuit model in Sports Illustrated is like a camel, a remark that is used to demean Arabs and Muslims. Larion, who works part-time as a surveyor in the city’s engineering division, posted the comment while off work.
After his comment was publicized on Facebook forums, some Arab Americans and others in Dearborn called for him to be reprimanded or fired.
Larion then told a Dearborn Police officer, Dearborn’s human resources department and WXYZ-TV that he had been hacked and was not the source of the post, according to a city letter. On Tuesday, he admitted through attorney Ed Zelenak that he wrote the post seen as offensive by many in Dearborn, which is more than 46% Arab American.
The city did not comment on why Larion was fired, but the Free Press obtained a copy of a letter sent by the city to Larion that explains why they decided to terminate him. The city said his post and attempts to cover up his actions failed to comply with the city’s mission “to deliver superior public service and to earn the public’s trust every day in everything we do.”
Larion’s actions diminished “the harmony of our workforce,” said the letter.
“Regrettably, your harassing social media post on Saturday, May 4, 2019, together with false statements made by you to a police officer assigned to the Mayor’s office on Saturday, May 4, 2019, the Human Resources Department on Monday, May 6, 2019, and the public concerning the source of the social media post, fail to meet these standards. Our trust, as well as the public’s trust, in your ability to perform your job in an impartial and truthful manner has been irreversibly damaged by your actions.”
The letter was signed by the head of Dearborn’s Department of Public Works.
Larion’s attorney, Zelenak, told the Free Press that the firing is “unfortunate.”
“He made a mistake, he stepped forward to admit it and apologize and tried to move forward toward a healing based upon the ill will he created.”
Zelenak said he and Larion had hoped this could have been a teachable moment where Larion would work with the community on promoting unity instead of being fired.
“There could have been a great teaching moment if were able to continue his employment with the City of Dearborn and serve as an example of one who had made a hateful mistake, but is trying to right the wrongs he caused.”
Zelanak said he had been planning to have Larion take part in interfaith and interethnic forums to help rehabilitate him. Some in the Arab American community had said he should be forgiven since it’s currently the Islamic month of Ramadan while others supported the city’s punishment.
Majed Moughni, an attorney in Dearborn of Arab descent, said he hopes this “will be a lesson to those who attempt to post racist comments on social media.”
The Arab American Civil Rights League in Dearborn said in a statement Wednesday evening that it “applauds Mayor O’Reilly for taking appropriate action and understanding the importance of maintaining trust with the community he governs.”
Now, Larion is worried about his future job prospects.
“At this point in his career, it leaves him with few options,” Zelenak said.
In a hand-written letter he shared on Tuesday with Dearborn officials before he was fired and obtained by the Free Press, Larion apologized, writing: “I Bill Larion have no one to blame but my self for my bad behavior. I want to apologize for my horrible comment. … I want to do better for my community and family. I hurt not only my family but my coworkers and my community and people I don’t even know. … I’m sorry to put my family through this burden, I’m so sorry to anyone I’ve hurt.”
Larion had made his post about camels in reference to model Halima Aden, who is Muslim of Somalian descent. She posed in the Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition wearing a burkini, a Muslim dress that covers the entire body in accordance with Islamic rules of modest clothing for women.
Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. did not comment on Wednesday, but said earlier in the week in a statement that the city has “zero tolerance” for bigotry by employees and that the post was unacceptable.