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CLT’s 2017 Distinguished Leaders Announced

MICHAEL MARCIANO, The Connecticut Law Tribune

The Connecticut Law Tribune is pleased to announce the winners of Distinguished Leader honors in the publication’s annual Professional Excellence Awards. The following attorneys were nominated by their peers and selected by a panel to be this year’s honorees, who will be celebrated at the annual Connecticut Legal Awards Dinner Oct. 3 at the Bond Room in Hartford:

Lewis Chimes
On March 24, 2016, a Connecticut jury awarded the largest race discrimination verdict in either state or federal court in Connecticut—$3.4 million. The case, won by attorney Lewis Chimes, whose law office is in Stamford, involved Yosif Bakhit, a black Sudanese Muslim immigrant who was granted political asylum here. He became a U.S. citizen and, in 2008, got a job as a laborer at Safety Marking, a company that painted lines on highways.

Between 2009 and 2012, he reported experiencing severe racism, particularly from supervisors. He was referred to as an ape or gorilla, offered bananas and was compared to a black doll, among other incidents. In 2012, he retained Chimes and requested that Safety Marking investigate his allegations. The company did not
interview Bakhit, denied his allegations and took no action. His car window was broken 10 days after he lodged his formal complaint.

Another African-American co-worker, Kiyada Miles, also came forward. Bakhit and Miles brought hostile environment and discrimination claims. Chimes described the litigation as “total war,” with the defendants contesting every issue. On March 24, 2016, the jury found for both Bakhit and Miles, awarding Bakhit $305,000 and Miles $86,000. In a separate hearing on punitive damages, the plaintiffs were awarded $1.5 million apiece, making international news. The court issued several published decisions advancing workers’ rights. “This was a case where a black Muslim immigrant who came to this country for a better life for himself and his family — the American Dream,” said Chimes, who added that he was “privileged to have played a role” in the case. “Yosif stood up for his rights in the face of bullying and severe abuse and his company’s refusal to protect him or take him seriously. The issues that played out in Mr. Bakhit’s trial—racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and treatment of refugees—resonated and continue to resonate beyond that courtroom. But in that one fabulous moment, the good guys won.

Mr. Bakhit had his day in court and was vindicated. Our civil justice system worked.”