The Fine Line Between Enforcing Workplace Rules and National Origin Discrimination

Race and nationality discrimination is sadly a daily problem for many New York workers. Many employees persist through the racist comments and “jokes” in the workplace, however, because they still need to bring home a day's pay. When an employee is fired due, even in part, to discriminatory bias, that employee may have no choice but to file a lawsuit.

Ex-Supermarket Employee Alleges Firing Due to Anti-African Bias

Consider this employment discrimination lawsuit pending before a federal judge in Manhattan, Diallo v. Whole Foods Market Group, Inc.. In this case, the plaintiff worked for approximately three years in the produce department of a midtown grocery store, which is owned by the defendant. The plaintiff is a native of Guinea, a country on the western coast of Africa.

According to the plaintiff's lawsuit, while working for the defendant he “experienced continuous acts of discrimination including jokes, denial of pay raises, and eventually termination because of his national origin.” For example, the plaintiff alleged that one occasion a supervisor told him point-blank that he would not be promoted because he was African. The plaintiff further alleged he was “was denied pay raises to which he was entitled.”

The crux of the plaintiff's lawsuit revolves around his termination. According to the plaintiff, one day he took some time during his lunch break to pray in a restroom. A supervisor then informed the plaintiff that he “overstayed” his lunch break and proceeded to terminate his employment for that reason. The plaintiff maintains this was just an excuse to fire him based on his national origin.

In federal court, the defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff failed to offer a viable employment discrimination claim. A federal magistrate reviewed the motion and recommended the court deny it. On January 9, 2019, the court in fact denied the motion, at least with respect to the plaintiff's claims under federal law.

The defendant said the plaintiff did not dispute that he “knowingly took an unauthorized break” and that such “theft of time” was a “major infraction” of workplace rules justifying his termination. As the judge noted, the issue is not whether the plaintiff took an unauthorized break, but whether that was the real reason the defendant fired him. In other words, the motives of the manager who made the decision to terminate the plaintiff are a disputed issue in this case and can not be resolved at the summary judgment stage. Among other things, a jury will need to determine whether the defendant consistently applied its policy of firing employees for a single rule violation–or whether “but for” the plaintiff's national origin he would have been disciplined differently.

Speak with a New York City National Origin Discrimination Lawyer Today

No employer ever cites racial or national origin bias as a reason for firing someone. If you have reason to believe that was the actual motive behind your own termination or disciplinary action, you need to speak with a qualified New York employment attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team today.