Michigan city worker fired for anti-Muslim Facebook post about Sports Illustrated model

Bill Larion's attorney said his client is not anti-Muslim. "He just thought it was a funny joke."
Image: Halima Aden
Halima Aden during a video shoot for Modanisa, in Buyukada, on March 25, 2018.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

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By Janelle Griffith

A city worker in Dearborn, Michigan, was fired Wednesday after a Facebook post mocking model Halima Aden, the first woman to wear a hijab and a burkini in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The employee then lied to cover up his actions.

Bill Larion, 58, a former part-time surveyor for the city’s engineering division, commented Saturday on the photo posted to a news station's Facebook page, saying, "Cute picture. Should be on the cover of camels are us."

Larion was off-duty at the time, his attorney, Ed Zelenak, told NBC News on Thursday.

In response to the post, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the city, which has an Arab American population of more than 40 percent, to fire Larion.

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Larion at first told human resources officials and the Dearborn police that his phone and Facebook account thad been hacked, his attorney said.

"He contacted me after he made the first denials and told me that he had misrepresented the truth and wanted to apologize to his employer and to the community," Zelenak said in a phone interview Thursday.

Zelenak said Larion deleted his Facebook account after realizing "he offended a large group of people."

Larion and Zelenak met with police Tuesday, and Larion informed them he had lied.

On Wednesday, he was fired by the city. His remarks were also condemned by Dearborn Mayor Jack O'Reilly who said in a statement earlier this week that the city has "zero tolerance" for bigotry by employees.

Zelenak said Larion is not anti-Muslim and that "he just thought it was a funny joke."

"He still feels mortified by what he had done and I've taken separate efforts for him to enroll in diversity classes," Zelenak said.

The model, Aden, 21, was born in Kenya and moved to Minnesota when she was 7. She is the first Muslim model to appear in Sports Illustrated wearing a burkini, a full-body swimsuit worn by some observant Muslim women.