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Court limits reach of obscure bias law: Discrimination case must stay in state court

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

Here’s a bit of good news for employers that would prefer to keep New York discrimination claims in state court. A federal court has refused to let a former employee use Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act to move state claims to federal court.

Recent case: Abdel Nofal is an Egyptian national and Muslim who worked in a restaurant at Manhattan’s Essex House Hotel. He claimed that his supervisor, a Christian, set him up to be fired because he is an Arab.

He sued in federal court, alleging that his employer violated Section 1981, which grants everyone the same right to make and enforce contracts that white citizens enjoy. Section 1981 was enacted after the Civil War to ensure that blacks had equal rights to work and sign contracts. Since then, it has been expanded to protect all races.

The basis of Nofal’s claim was that his boss insulted him by holding up a piece of bacon while greeting Nofal in Arabic.

That kind of claim, a federal court ruled, would at best be religious discrimination—not race bias, because not all Arabs are Muslims. It tossed out Nofal’s case. (Nofal v. Jumeirah Essex House, No. 09-2994, SD NY, 2010)

Final note: Why would Nofal not have sued under Title VII instead? Possibly he could not because his employer didn’t have enough employees or because he missed an EEOC deadline.

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