Today’s diverse labor pool includes employees from all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. It’s a work environment in which employees certainly won’t tolerate out-and-out discrimination. Nor will they tolerate slights or comments about how certain people are supposed to act or the alleged characteristics of people of certain nationalities.
That’s why it’s important to remind all supervisors to judge employees on their individual merits—and not to indulge stereotypes.
As the following case shows, using stereotypes in any critique of job performance may be enough evidence of national origin discrimination to merit a possible jury trial.
Recent case: Anjana Dossa, who is of Indian national origin, worked as a civilian engineering flight commander for the U.S. Air Force (USAF). The USAF placed her on a performance improvement plan after she received a poor evaluation. She asserted that co-workers and subordinates simply didn’t understand her because she spoke English with a heavy accent.
When Dossa’s performance didn’t improve, the USAF fired her. That’s when she sued, alleging that her Air Force supervisors singled her out not because of poor work, but because of her national origin. In court, she explained that someone had spread the word that she “treated others like a bossy, rich Indian would treat the poor.”
The trial court dismissed the case, concluding that Dossa had presented no evidence of discrimination.
But the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. In fact, it concluded Dossa had presented some evidence of national origin bias, evident in the comment about how certain Indians treat others. The appeals court sent the case back to the lower court, which will have to decide if there was enough evidence to merit a trial. (Dossa v. Wynne, No. 07-3284, 10th Cir., 2008)
Final note: The only safe approach to national origin discrimination is to insist that no one apply any form of stereotypes to other employees—not even if the comments are made in jest.
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