San Diego Co. Airport Authority faces ethnic discrimination lawsuit

Posted at 6:36 PM, Jan 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-23 22:03:55-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A general contracting company believes its employees were terminated from a multi-million dollar job at the airport because the employees are of Middle Eastern descent.

Future DB International is suing the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority (SDCRAA) for violating civil rights, among other complaints.

Sam Katbi is the owner of Future DB International, a general contracting firm that won a more than $4.7 million bid to construct a new gate and service road.

Katbi says he was born in Syria, came to the U.S. as a young man, graduated from Loyola Marymount University and then earned his U.S. citizenship.

He adds that his employees who were scheduled to work on the airport project are also Syrian-born U.S. citizens. Katbi claims the SDCRAA engaged in discriminatory, harassing and retaliatory actions because many of Katbi’s employees are of Middle Eastern descent.

Future DB International was eventually terminated from the job. “It was devastating for the company and for the employees as well,” says Katbi. Meanwhile, the SDCRAA won’t comment on open cases.

“During the time that this contract was being terminated was also during the travel ban,” says Katbi’s attorney, Fadi Rasheed.

Protests broke out nationwide over the travel ban that barred U.S. entry for citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries, including Syria. “It was the airport authority's decision, possibly, that we don't want someone from Middle Eastern descent to be working in a secured area,” Katbi tells us.

Rasheed and Katbi say tension with SDCRAA began soon after winning the bid, starting with contract issues that developed into concerns over ethnicity.

According to the lawsuit, the SDCRAA’s Director of Facilities Development “made it clear that SDCRAA wanted no part of a contractor that employed individuals of Middle Eastern descent to work on an airport-related project.

Additionally, the suit claims the director stated, “[W]e will be very frank with you, we are going to put you under a microscope, and everyone from Washington to the Third Floor here at the airport [is] having problems with this many Middle Easterners on the job,” and “[W]e will not make it easy, you either comply with our demands or it will be a difficult job for you.” Katbi tells us, “I said these are American citizens. They work like anybody else. I don't see why you're making this a big deal.”

Katbi claims he was desperate to comply, so he vastly reduced the number of employees of Middle Eastern descent that would be working in areas not open to the public at the airport, replaced his Syrian-American project manager with another project manager who was not of Middle Eastern descent, and hired a security director who was not of Middle Eastern descent.

Still, Katbi and Rasheed say it was not enough. “It was a couple months of mounting tension and finally they were just terminated,” adds Rasheed.

According to the lawsuit, SDCRAA notified the Plaintiff it was terminating the contract “for convenience”. There was apparently no further explanation, according to Katbi. He says he appealed the termination, but it was rejected.

We asked the SDCRAA for an on-camera interview about the lawsuit.

A spokesperson wrote back, “Thank you for reaching out. We respectfully decline your invitation to provide an on-camera interview. The Airport Authority makes it a practice not to talk about issues concerning pending litigation.”