Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Harassment Based On National Origin

The EEOC defines national origin discrimination as discrimination that "involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not)." Harassment, which is a form of unlawful discrimination, based on national origin is unlawful when it is "so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted)." This is enforced under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
In a recent case from the First Circuit, Zayadeen v. Abbott Molecular Inc. (click here for access), the Court determined that an employee was able to bring a claim for racial and national origin discrimination against his employer. Zayadeen was born in Jordan and of Arab descent. His fellow employees, including one who later was promoted to a supervisory position, frequently called him "Borat" based on the film of the same name. Other employees were also encouraged to call Zayadeen by the name "Borat" as well. The name calling occurred in public, and in the presence of at least one employee from the Human Resources Department.
Other isolated incidents included being told: "Well, I don't want to be sitting home watching the news and I see you stuck to the front of an Israeli tank;" and "We let you in this country, and we gave you a Green Card. The least you can do is speak English." Zayadeen was also told that the Arabic language was a "dirty language" and that his Jordanian food looked like dog food. Although Zayadeen never complained directly to his supervisors, he did ask the employees to cease the name calling. A supervisor overheard this and took no steps to stop it or prevent it.
In June 2009, Zayadeen took an approved personal leave of absence from July 13, 2009 through November 15, 2009. His supervisor stated that he needed to fill that position immediately, and began the process of posting the position before Zayadeen went on leave. When Zayadeen tried to return towards the end of August, he was told his position was no longer available. However, a replacement was not hired until two days prior to Zaydeen's leave of absence being up and did not begin to work until the end of December. Zayadeen extended his leave for a total of one year, and was officially separated from the company when his leave expired.
Based on the evidence, the court determined that:
(1) A reasonable jury could conclude that Zayadeen was harassed based on his Jordanian national origin.
(2) A reasonable jury could also conclude that Zayadeen was harassed because of his Arab descent.
(3) A jury could reasonably conclude that routinely being so ridiculed, mostly in the presence of co-workers and superiors, altered the conditions of Zayadeen's employment.
(4) A reasonable jury could infer that because the supervisor who granted Zayadeen's leave had previously harassed him on account of his race and national origin, the supervisor was motivated by those same discriminatory impulses when deciding whether Zayadeen could return to his job.
The case will now be proceeding to trial.

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