Failure to Promote Based on a Foreign Accent

Race and national origin discrimination certainly comes in many different forms. A recent employment case out of New York demonstrates that evidence of disparate treatment based on an employee's foreign accent can be evidence of race or national origin discrimination.

Haiti emigrant denied promotion due to accent

In the case of Jeudy v. City of New York, the plaintiff was born in Haiti and immigrated to the United States and received a bachelor's degree in forensic science. He worked as a Criminalist I-B for the New York City's Medical Examiner's office. Although he applied for promotions to Criminalist II several times, he was always rejected. After working in the entry level position for six years he had never been promoted. On the other hand, several "non-black" employees with American accents who were all junior to Jeudy, were promoted one and two levels above him.

A standard practice of rejecting foreign-accented employees

In March 2011, at his year-end review, he was told by his supervisor that he was not being promoted because of his foreign accent. In fact, management had a standing practice of not promoting foreign-accented criminalists to Criminalist II, because in that position he would be expected to testify in court. It was the belief of management that foreign-accented criminalists could not testify effectively.

Retaliation turns into termination

There was also evidence that, because of Jeudy's repeated complaints regarding the denial of promotions, management was "out to get him." Jeudy alleged that the managers began a campaign to discipline him for minor infractions and give him unfavorable performance reviews. Jeudy was ultimately terminated effective February 12, 2014.

Claim of invidious employment discrimination

The court found that Jeudy provided evidence that he was treated adversely because of his race or national origin. He alleged that management had a standing practice of refusing to promote foreign-accented criminalists, imposed this practice against Jeudy, and ultimately suspended and then terminated him for his persistent complaints about being rejected for a promotion. Ultimately, the court found that “disparate treatment on the basis of a foreign accent is evidence of discrimination based on race or national origin.”

Jeudy had a retaliation claim as well

In addition, the court found that Jeudy’s complaint stated a cause of action for retaliation as well. The court rejected the City’s arguments that Jeudy failed to show a causal connection between his complaints about being denied a promotion and his suspension and termination. The evidence showed that the City indeed had a concerted campaign

of excessive scrutiny which directly led to his suspension and termination. The Appellate Division stated that “…while, as plaintiff concedes, the continuing violations doctrine only applies to his claims of failure to promote under the City HRL even under the State HRL, he ‘is not precluded from using the prior acts as background evidence in support of a timely claim.”

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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