A unique case highlights a twist on the usual definition of discrimination: If an employee is fired for failing to live up to a stereotype about a particular race or nationality, she’s unlikely to win a discrimination lawsuit. That’s because under those circumstances, the employee wasn’t fired because of her race or nationality.
Recent case: Hyunmi Son, a Korean-born woman, was hired as an in-house bill collector for a jewelry business. The company was owned by two Korean-born U.S. residents.
But Son rebelled when the owners told her she would be required to work lots of overtime without pay. The owners told her they expected her to put in the extra hours because all Koreans provided such “courtesies” for their employers.
When Son was fired after refusing, she sued for unpaid overtime—and race and national-origin discrimination.
The court allowed her unpaid overtime claim to go forward.
However, it didn’t let her discrimination claims go to trial. The judge reasoned that Son had been fired because she refused to live up to stereotypes about Koreans, not because she was Korean. (Son v. Bijoux World, et al., No. 11-CIV-2315, SD NY, 2011)
Final note: This case may be an example of judges trying to limit the cases they hear to just the main and most manageable claims. Lawyers throw all the claims they can think of against the wall, but judges decide which ones stick.
- Tell managers: Avoid subjective hiring preferences
- Acting against worker who has already complained? Have someone new make decision
- Can't stop employee from working off the clock? Fire him for willful misconduct
- Employees who sue and lose are now more likely liable for court costs
- Audit wages and salaries to identify hidden sex bias