Posted on July 26, 2005

Discrimination Can Extend to Names: Court

Judy Greenwald, BusinessInsurance.com, July 22

SAN FRANCISCO — An employer who insisted on calling an employee “Manny” instead of his actual Arabic name is liable for employment discrimination, said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

A three-judge panel on Thursday unanimously affirmed a district court’s ruling upholding a jury verdict that found Greg Young, chief executive officer of Austin, Texas-based BJY Inc., liable for employment discrimination when he continued to insist on calling Mamdouh El-Hakem “Manny” over Mr. El-Hakem’s strenuous objections.

Mr. Young had said that a “Western” name would increase Mr. El-Hakem’s chances for success at the engineering firm and would be more acceptable to the company’s clientele, said the decision in El-Hakem vs. BJY Inc.

A jury had awarded Mr. El-Hakem $15,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages for the intentional discrimination against him by Mr. Young on the basis of his race by creating a hostile work environment. It also awarded him $11,000 in wages due.

The appellate court also agreed with the district court that the company should be held vicariously liable on the racial discrimination claim.

The defendant’s “contention that actionable race discrimination must be based on physical or ‘genetically determined characteristics such as skin color’ ignores the broad reach of the law,” the decision stated. “A group’s ethnic characteristics encompass more than its members’ skin color and physical traits. Names are often a proxy for race and ethnicity,” the opinion added.

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