Evidence, Not Speculation, Required For National Origin Discrimination Lawsuit
We have blogged about legal translation services for lawsuits related to employers’ liability for discrimination based on national origin in the workplace. While employers must steer clear of discriminating against prospective or actual employees on the basis of language or national origin, the law protects employers from claims that are not rooted in evidence.
Paul v. Tsoukaris, decided in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, is an example of one case in which the court required more than mere conjecture as to the existence of discrimination based on national origin. In this case, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (collectively, “DHS”) for allegedly discriminating against him based on his national origin and disability. In his lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that DHS violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
By way of background, the plaintiff was born in India. Before his employment with DHS, the plaintiff obtained a Master’s Degree and worked as a Sheriff Processing Associate in Georgia where he allegedly showed “exemplary service.” Although he is able to speak English, he claimed that his English-language skills were “imperfect.”
In 2008, the plaintiff began working for DHS as a Detention and Removal assistant for ICE. The plaintiff was initially approved for a GS-7 level pay grade, but his pay grade was reduced to GS-5 before he began his employment. Approximately six months after he began working for ICE, the plaintiff sent an email to a supervisor asking that his pay grade be reconsidered on the grounds that another employee in his same department with less education and experience was hired at a higher pay grade than he was. One month after his request, the plaintiff was injured at work when a co-worker startled him with an air duster, which allegedly caused him to hit his elbow on a table and twist his neck. While he was out on disability, the plaintiff received two pay grade promotions to GS-6 and eventually GS-7. (He later went up to pay grade GS-8 in 2011.)
Several months after he returned to work from disability, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant, who was the acting Field Office Director at the time, regarding issues related to his return to work. The plaintiff also complained about the employee who was hired in his same unit at a higher salary level than he was and claimed that this employee had a close relative who was a supervisor in the same building as DHS.
In 2012, the plaintiff filed a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) stating that he believed he was discriminated against based on his national origin. The plaintiff pointed to DHS’s failure to consider his work experience and academic background when setting his initial pay grade at the time of hire. He eventually filed a formal complaint with the EEOC claiming “severe discrimination from [his] employer based in [his] Nation Origin and [his] Physical Disability.” The EEOC rejected his claim on the grounds that he failed to contact the EEO counselor in a timely manner as he waited almost four years after the date of the alleged discrimination to do so. The plaintiff then filed suit in federal court, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment seeking the dismissal of the lawsuit.
English to Malayalam Deposition Interpreter’s Services
The court rejected the plaintiff’s discrimination claim and held that the plaintiff had failed to present any evidence of discrimination other than the fact that an American was hired at a higher level than he was a year prior. The court noted that “[a] plaintiff’s subjective belief that [national origin] played a role in an employment decision is not sufficient to establish an inference of discrimination.” Id., citing Rodriguez v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 532 F. Spp’x 152, 153 (3rd Cir. 2013). The court reasoned that at his deposition, the plaintiff could not recall whether his DHS application asked for his national origin or whether he was ever asked about it before he was hired. The court also noted that at his deposition, the plaintiff used a Malayalam deposition interpreter (Malayalam is spoken in southern India), even though he spoke English in the course of his employment at DHS and did not use an English to Malayalam interpreter while employed there. The plaintiff also testified that he spoke English at his previous place of employment, where he interviewed inmates and completed paperwork in English.
In rejecting the plaintiff’s national origin discrimination claims, the court found that the plaintiff’s was merely speculating as to the reason behind DHS’s pay-grade decisions and held that these speculations were insufficient to create a question of material fact necessary to overcome the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s ADA and Equal Pay Act claims and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in its entirety, thereby disposing of the entire case in favor of the defendant.
The case is Paul v. Tsoukaris, Court No. 13-5891 decided in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on March 17, 2017.
* This language translation blog article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.*