Can Refusing to Honor an Employee's New Name be National Origin Discrimination?

An employee in New Jersey filed a national origin discrimination lawsuit based on his employer’s refusal to use his new name on his paychecks. According to his pro se lawsuit, Erwin LeJon-Twin El claimed that he changed his name in order to emphasize his national origin. He informed his employer of the name change and asked that it be honored. Although the employer agreed to do so in the workplace, it was unable to honor the request with regard to personnel documents.

Legally Changing Your Name

Individuals are allowed to use whatever name they choose as long as the name change is not being used as a means to defraud. However, a name change in the context of the IRS and the Social Security Administration, for example, can be a complicated process. In this case, the employee failed to successfully register his new name with either the IRS or the SSA, so his name change did not appear to be legally effective.

A Request to Honor a Name Change in the Workplace

LeJon-Twin El announced his new name to his employer and requested the company honor that change in the workplace. The company came to an agreement that the company would use "LeJon-Twin El" whenever possible, but would still use "Erwin Hilton" (his birth name) for federal I-9 and payroll tax purposes. The company also agreed to use his new name in those contexts whenever it was legally changed.

The Basis of His National Origin Claim

Basically, the employee took issue with the fact that his employer continued to make out his checks in his birth name after being informed that he changed his name. This was characterized as a national original claim because the name change was motivated by a desire to highlight his national origin.

The employer responded that, because the name change was not accomplished legally, it was under no obligation to write checks in the new name. The court ruled that the company’s refusal was not discrimination. Despite the fact that LeJon-Twin El offered Social Security Administration and Internal Revenue Service documents to prove his name change was official, the court found that the documents did not actually show that the government had recognized the name change.

No Adverse Employment Action Suffered

Another problem with this national origin claim is that there was no evidence of an actionable adverse employment action. Even a suspension with pay does not necessarily qualify as an adverse employment action when there is no diminution in pay, responsibilities, or benefits. In fact, in this case, the court found that there was no employment-based harm alleged. More importantly, the court held that "paying the plaintiff under his birth name is not an adverse employment action." Instead, the court commented that the employee "is being paid wages and may resign anytime he likes."

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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