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Have zero tolerance for offensive national-Origin comments

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in Human Resources

A nation embroiled in war tends to be jittery and tempers run high. When anger and emotion seep into the workplace, things can get ugly. That’s why it’s important to remind everyone that you won’t tolerate comments, gags or jokes aimed at employees who may share ethnicity, religion or national origins with the “enemy.”

Recent case: Mohommed Rafiq was born in India and is a practicing Muslim. He worked as a car salesman in Conroe when the Sept. 11 attacks took place. Almost immediately, his co-workers began addressing him as “Taliban” and questioning whether he had any part in the terror attacks. Rafiq complained, but the comments continued and included suggestions that he go back to where he came from.

He was also called an Arab and was told, “This is America … This is not the Islamic country where you come from.” When Rafiq protested, his supervisor issued a warning, telling him he was “acting like a Muslim extremist.”

Rafiq was fired. The EEOC sued, alleging a hostile-work environment and national-origin discrimination.

The trial court dismissed the case, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. It concluded that there was clear evidence the conduct was harassing. It also didn’t have a problem with allowing a national-origin discrimination case in which the co-workers never made comments about Rafiq’s Indian origins. They were still harassing him based on national origin, even if they were mistaken about the nation he came from. (EEOC v. WC&M Enterprises, No. 05-21090, 5th Cir., 2007)

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