In September, Spirit employee Munir Zanial threw a party to celebrate Malaysian Independence Day and the end of Ramadan.
At the party, guests, the majority of whom were of Malaysian Indian ancestry, took photos with a Malaysian flag.
In October, Zanial learned he was being investigated by the FBI after a Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association employee had complained about a “group dressed in Muslim garb” and “an American flag desecrated with ISIS symbols,” a lawsuit alleges.
The FBI investigation was closed in October, but Zanial found out in January that his membership in the association had been restricted.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint against the Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association, saying Zanial was discriminated against due to his race, ethnicity and religion.
A representative of the Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association said she could not comment Monday.
Zanial is a Malaysian national of Indian ancestry, according to the complaint. Like the majority of Malaysians, he is Muslim. He has lived in Wichita since 2011 and works as a senior stress engineer at Spirit. He has been a member of the Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association since 2016.
Spirit Aerosystems also operates a large facility in Malaysia.
The lawsuit states that Zanial had rented space at the Spirit Boeing Employees’ Association’s recreational lake to host his party. Several of the guests, including his wife, wore hijabs.
A report was later filed about Zanial with the Spirit security team, the lawsuit says, but no one from the association contacted Zanial.
Lauren Bonds, legal director at the ACLU, said Zanial and the ACLU hope others won’t experience similar reactions while gathering and celebrating.
“He was in a situation where he was celebrating the end of Ramadan and the 60th anniversary of Malaysian independence, there was absolutely no basis for assuming anything negative was going on in broad daylight at the SBEA’s lake,” Bonds said. “It’s just illogical how something so small snowballed into this and the only way you can explain this is prejudice and discrimination.”
The Malaysian flag has alternating red and white stripes and a blue rectangle in the upper left corner, much like the American flag. Unlike the American flag, it has a crescent moon and a 14-point star on the blue rectangle.
The ISIS flag is black with the words La ‘ilaha ‘illa-llah — “There is no God but God” — written across the top in white, Arabic script, according to Time Magazine. A white circle beneath the script has the words “God Messenger Mohammed” written inside it.
In late October, the FBI closed its investigation, but told Zanial that the association was working with a private investigator, according to the complaint.
When Zanial applied to rent part of the association’s pavilion in January, he was told that his membership “had been restricted due to an incident that occurred during his September 2nd party. (SBEA Executive Director Trish) Pulliam described the incident as involving a guest holding a flag,” the lawsuit states.
“Mr. Zanial continues to experience stress and anxiety relating to the FBI investigation,” the lawsuit says. “He is concerned that the investigation could affect his lawful permanent resident status. He also feels distress and humiliation based on this experience of being singled-out because of his ethnicity, race, and religion.”