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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Employment Discrimination Claims Against Korean Car Company But Allows Retaliation Claims.

We’ve blogged before about legal interpreter services in cases involving discrimination in the workplace on the basis of language or national origin. Employment discrimination cases, as well as civil litigation cases at large, often require services of Korean to English deposition interpreters.  In Gogel v. Kia Motors, the plaintiff filed suit against a car manufacturer for gender and national original discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The plaintiff also alleged race and alienage discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1981. As with most employment discrimination claims, the case turned on the strength of the evidence to support the plaintiff’s case.

Background.

The plaintiff was employed by Kia Motors of Georgia, which was a subsidiary of the Korean Kia Motors Corporation, as a “team relations manager.” During the course of her employment, the plaintiff, who is American, allegedly experienced discrimination because she was an American and a woman. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that she was denied a job promotion. The plaintiff believed that she had been denied the promotion because of her gender and also because of her investigation of a co-worker’s complaint of sexism. The plaintiff’s co-worker had also complained to the plaintiff that she was discriminated against as well in that she was forced to greet male executives from Korea, pour wine for them, and was called a geisha. The co-worker further complained about an improper relationship between her supervisor and a company executive, which the plaintiff then investigated in conjunction with her role within the “team relations department.”

In regards to her own complaints, the plaintiff brought her concerns to her supervisor about being passed over for the promotion to no avail. Eventually, the plaintiff filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). When the plaintiff’s co-worker also filed a complaint with the EEOC, the plaintiff was fired from her position. The defendant stated that she was fired because “one could conclude that she encouraged or even solicited [the co-worker’s] filing of the charge” and that, at the very least, there was “an appearance of a conflict of interest.” The plaintiff’s supervisor later explained that he was “totally convinced” that the plaintiff had solicited and even encouraged other employees to file lawsuits against the company.

Procedural History.

After the EEOC notified the plaintiff of her right to sue the defendant in a court of law, the plaintiff filed a discrimination complaint in state court. The defendant subsequently removed the case to federal court on the basis that it involved allegations of violations of federal law.

Once the case was in federal court, the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims and the plaintiff filed a cross motion for summary judgment on her retaliation claim. The district court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on all claims and denied the plaintiff’s cross-motion. In doing so, the district court found that the plaintiff had been fired for failing to properly perform her job duties and not as a result of discrimination.

Plaintiff Appeals to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

After the district court granted summary judgment against her, the plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In her appeal, the plaintiff reiterated her arguments that the Korean car manufacturer discriminated against her because she was an American woman and retaliated against her for engaging in protected activity. The Court of Appeals found that the defendant had, indeed, retaliated against the plaintiff by terminating her. The court found that the plaintiff’s acts of assisting a co-worker with her EEOC claim was protected activity. The court also found that the defendant’s “internal framework” of responding to employee complaints had been exhausted and that the plaintiff only gave her co-worker the name of an attorney after the company failed to take any action to address that employee’s concerns. In finding that the plaintiff had been improperly fired for engaging in protected opposition activity, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s retaliation claims on summary judgment.

The Court of Appeals was not persuaded that the plaintiff’s gender and national origin discrimination claims were actionable, however. Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the court found that these claims were based on “circumstantial evidence.” Although the court noted that there was evidence that the plaintiff in fact suffered gender and national origin discrimination during her employment, the court held that there was no evidence that this discrimination formed the basis for her termination. To the contrary, the court held that the evidence revealed that the plaintiff was fired due to her efforts in assisting her fellow co-worker with the co-worker’s own employment claim. The court explained that although this evidence supported the plaintiff’s retaliation claim, it did not establish that the real reason for her firing was gender or national origin discrimination.

Based on the forgoing, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment but reversed the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment on the plaintiff’s retaliation claims.

The case is Gogel v. Kia Motors, Case No. 16-16850, decided in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on September 24, 2018.

Learn more about our Korean to English deposition interpreting services for remote telephonic depositions and for on-site depo interpreting here.

***This legal blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.***

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