Dearborn worker behind controversial 'camel' post loses job

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A day after a part-time Dearborn worker apologized for a controversial social media comment about a Muslim model, the city announced he has lost his job.

"Bill Larion no longer works for the city of Dearborn," representatives said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Per protocol, the city will not be commenting further on internal personnel matters."

Larion, a surveyor in the city's Engineering Department, offered a written apology during a meeting Tuesday with Dearborn police, which had been investigating the source of remarks on a WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) report about a Muslim woman appearing in Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue wearing a burkini.

He was accompanied by a lawyer, Ed Zelenak, who said the 58-year-old expressed remorse and had deleted his Facebook account once realizing "he offended a large group of people," including the city's large Muslim and Arab population.

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that the post, attributed to Larion, said the model's photo should grace "Camels are us."

The group also had called on the city to fire Larion, who initially denied writing the post when speaking with human resources officials, police and Channel 7, suggesting his account had been hacked.

"He said he panicked and thought he would cover himself up," Zelenak said, adding Larion decided on his own to tell the truth on Tuesday. "He knew already that he was wrong."

On Monday, Mayor Jack O'Reilly said he had "zero tolerance for the type of language used in the Facebook comment."

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR Michigan, supported the city's decision.

"We’re pleased that the city took a swift and strong stance to let its employees know that anti-Muslim bigotry will not be tolerated," he said, adding he hoped the city would explore more sensitivity training for its staffers.

"Many people that I've heard from in Dearborn believe that the comments that this gentleman made were a complete slap in the face of the community, especially at the start of our most holy month of the year."

Larion was open to becoming involved with interfaith and community groups to better understand diversity, Zelenak said. The termination was disappointing because allowing Larion to stay in his job and follow through on those plans, he said, "would’ve been a great opportunity for the city of Dearborn to put both feet forward and say: 'We’re going to learn from this.' "