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Ohio National Origin Discrimination Attorney’s Best Answer: Can I be fired for a bad attitude if it relates to my complaints of discrimination? What is protected activity for retaliation claims? Can I be fired because I’m Iranian-American?

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Sometimes when reading through employment cases in legal research, the content can be, well, somewhat boring. Other times, the words seem to jump off the page and I’m instantly reminded of situations relevant to current societal issues and frequently depicted in pop culture. Usually, these cases have facts and details that would seem interesting to anyone, even people outside of the legal field.

The employment discrimination lawsuit that is topic of today’s blog is one of those interesting cases. While reading through it, I was reminded of scenes from certain movies including:

  • Alec Baldwin delivering the infamous, “Coffee’s for closers” speech from Glengarry Glenn Ross;
  • The love story between a Viagra salesman played by Jake Gyllenhal and Anne Hathaway’s character who has early onset Parkinson’s disease in Love and Other Drugs;
  • Not to mention, Gordon Gekko in Wall Street and the antics of high powered stock brokers and traders in Martin Scorcese’s Wolf of Wall Street;
  • And finally, Dustin Hoffman’s critically acclaimed role in Arthur Miller’s classic Death of a Salesman.
I was fired today because of my religious beliefs. I am being discriminated against at work because of my national origin. Can my boss harass me because of my religion?

See the theme? Perhaps the reason why there have been so many popular and critically acclaimed movies about sales is because this profession is filled with high stress, high risk, high reward scenarios and dramatic occasions.

For instance, in a very recent case the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio), revived the retaliation claim brought by an Iranian-American employee was employed by ConMed as a territory manager and was responsible for selling endoscopic medical devices. Both Yazdian and ConMed agree that as a salesperson, Yazdian was successful. He received numerous awards and accolades for his performance and favorable performance reviews. Where the parties differ, is on relationship between Yazdian and his supervisor, Timothy Sweatt.

Before we get into all the facts, it is important to remember that even though you may think your case will never be successful because you can’t produce an audio recording or document that supports your claims, many times, your consistent, truthful, and honest testimony about discrimination or harassment is enough to make your claim!

Yazdian alleged that Sweatt did not like him because of his national origin and religion. Sweatt claimed that Yazdian’s religion and ethnicity were not an issue, but Yazdian’s poor attitude was problematic. Here’s how it went down:

After Sweatt took over in a supervisory role, Yazdian claimed he made an issue of Yazdian’s religion and national origin in the several ways, the main ones being:

  1. Sweatt gave Yazdian a copy of an article in National Geographic about the ancient Persian empire in Iran. The note on the article stated, “I took out the subscription to National Geographic for my kids, but this cover story on ancient Iran caught my eye [and] was a very interesting read. Thught [sic] you would want to see it as well.”
  2. Sweatt gave Yazdian, and the rest of his subordinate employees, a gift card to Honey Baked Ham. Although many Muslims do not eat pork, Yazdian’s lawsuit stated he was non-practicing. Sweatt’s email about the gift card stated, “Although I believe you have said you do eat pork, I would like to mention that if you have never shopped at this place, they have many other items—the turkey is quite good!”

After reviewing the facts of Yazdian’s claims, the Court decided that while he could not make out a case for national origin or religious discrimination based on the identified conduct, his retaliation claim should have survived the lower court’s review.

Prior to being fired, Yazdian and his boss engaged in several exchanges that suggest there was more to the case than Sweatt’s seemly friendly notes related to Iran or the Muslim faith. In April 2010, Yazdian closed a very large sale and submitted an article about his big sale to the company’s internal newsletter. Yazdian and Sweatt disagreed about the submission of the article and this disagreement eventually prompted Yazdian to complain, “you don’t like the way I write. You don’t like the way I talk. I guess you don’t like my race, either.” The relationship between Sweatt and Yazdian continued to deteriorate until June 2010, when Yazdian complained that Sweatt was creating a hostile work environment, in addition to making several colorful comments about Sweatt’s management style. Soon thereafter, Yazdian requested to be transferred out from under Sweatt’s supervision and complained again about the hostile work environment created by Sweatt.

In response, Sweatt and a human resources representative began to discuss Yazdian’s “behavioral issues” and included Yazdian’s conduct and word choice during the conversations where Yazdian specifically complained that Sweatt did not like his race and was creating a hostile work environment. The result of the discussion was a written warning issued to Yazdian. Sweatt alleged that Yazdian was very angry about the warning and during a phone call about the warning, Yazdian made numerous seemingly aggressive statements including:

  • I am going to put you on warning.
  • I’m going to win, ‘cause I always do…
  • You are not in a position to challenge me.
  • I know people respect me more than they respect you.
  • You are a bad individual.
  • Don’t call me anymore, except for our weekly call in.

However, Yazdian also made several seemingly legitimate complaints such as:

  • You are creating a hostile work environment for me.
  • I will be responding with charges on you.
  • I am going to bring a lawsuit against you, Tim [Sweatt], so you had better watch yourself.

At the end of the call, Sweatt decided to terminate Yazdian. Although the human resources department continued to investigate Yazdian’s claims, Yazdian alleged that during one phone call, a human resources representative did not tell him she was investigating his harassment/discrimination claims, and instead told Yazdian that he was not allowed to complain about his managers.

Ultimately, Yazdian was terminated. In analyzing the lower’s court’s decision to dismiss Yazdian’s claims, the appellate court considered ConMed’s argument that Yazdian’s complaints were too vague:

In Booker, the black plaintiff cited two instances of opposition to unlawful employment practices. First, he complained that his immediate supervisor had said, when referring to blacks, “I don’t know if these people can comprehend asset management.” Booker, 879 F.2d at 1309. Second, he wrote a letter to the Human Resources Department in which he alleged that the company’s critique of the plaintiff’s management style was “a case of ethnocism.” Id. We concluded that neither instance constituted opposition to an unlawful employment practice under Title VII. Id. at 1313. We held that the first complaint was limited to an isolated comment by one employee, and therefore the plaintiff had not opposed the company’s employment practices. Id. And we struggled to understand what exactly the plaintiff meant by alleging that the company engaged in “ethnocism.” Id. at 1313 & n.4. For that reason, we held that this vague charge was insufficient to notify the employer that the plaintiff was opposing an unlawful practice. Id. at 1313.

Here, however, Yazdian’s complaints were more specifically defined. Yazdian complained about allegedly unlawful discrimination multiple times during his employment at ConMed. He made the following six statements to Sweatt, which individually and together qualify as Title-VII protected activity:

  • “I’m going to respond with counsel.”
  • “I’m going to bring you up on charges before . . .”
  • “Bring a lawsuit against [Sweatt]”
  • “Hostile work environment.”
  • “I will have an attorney respond.”

… These statements—particularly the hostile-work-environment charge—put ConMed on notice that Yazdian believed that Sweatt’s conduct was illegal. “Hostile work environment” is a term of art, which refers to an unlawful employment practice under Title VII that arises because of “discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult[s]” repeatedly directed at an employee on the basis of a protected characteristic. See Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 115–16 (2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, an employee who complains that an employer is creating a “hostile work environment” engages in Title-VII protected activity when the context objectively reveals that the employee is using the expression to complain about repeated abusive discriminatory comments or treatment.

Ultimately, Yazdian will be permitted to present his retaliation claim to the jury. Because both Sweatt and ConMed’s human resources representatives cited to Yazdian’s behavior while making protected complaints as a reason for the termination, the Court found that a jury could conclude that the reasons ConMed supplied for Yazdian’s termination could be pretext.

If you are an employee in Ohio and have experienced behavior or conduct similar to what is contained in this blog (fired after making complaints about discrimination or harassment based on national origin or religion) then you may have a claim. Most employees in Ohio are covered under Federal and State laws contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio Revised Code § 4112.02(A). These laws were enacted to prevent employers from making critical employment related decisions based on race and national origin. Specifically, it an unlawful discriminatory practice in Ohio for a qualifying employer to “discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment” based on national origin or religion.

If you feel that your employer is discriminating against you based on your national origin (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Palestinian, Syrian, Asian, Indian, or Russian), you may have a legal claim. To find out if you have a legal claim for national origin discrimination, your best option is to call the right attorney at 866-797-6040 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a national origin discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I …”, “What should I do …,” “Can my boss discriminate against me because I’m (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Russian, Palestinian, Syrian, Japanese)?” or “I was fired for my religious beliefs. What can I do?”, it would be best for to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem.

Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.