Thursday, August 18, 2005

What's in a Name?

Employers better think twice before calling an employee by a nickname. A recent Ninth Circuit case, El-Hakem v. BJY Inc., reveals how, in some cases, the use of unwelcome nicknames can cause serious trouble.

In the El-Hakem case, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer could be held liable for discrimination on the basis of race by continuously referring to an Arabic employee by a non-Arabic name, rather than by the employee's Arabic name. In this case, a supervisor repeatedly referred to the plaintiff, Mamdouh El-Hakem, as "Manny." Despite El-Hakem's strenuous objections, the supervisor insisted on using the non-Arabic name of Manny rather than El-Hakem's given name. This conduct continued for almost a year.

A jury found that the supervisor intentionally discriminated against El-Hakem and awarded him $15,000 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages. The Ninth Circuit upheld the jury's award, finding that the supervisor's intentional conduct created a hostile work environment. The court went on to state that even though the supervisor had not spoken words encompassing a group's ethnic characteristics or skin color (he did not make a "typical" racial slur), the record was clear that the supervisor intended to discriminate against El-Hakem's Arabic name in favor of a non-Arabic name.

Read the entire story on here.

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