U.S. Fourth Circuit - The FindLaw 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Muslim Woman's Discrimination Suit Revived

The wrongful termination suit by an Arab-American Muslim woman of Moroccan descent was largely reversed by the Fourth Circuit recently, meaning that a jury will hear the discrimination allegations she brought against her former employer.

It was a whopper of an opinion that discussed the limitations that lower federal courts ought to observe concerning summary adjudication.

Repeated Harassment

Guessous worked as an accounting and bookkeeping assistant at a real estate office between the years of 2007 and 2013. During a significant portion of that time, she allegedly suffered various racial and ethnic epithets by the hands of her CFO. Some of the CFO's choicer statements were "Middle Easterners ... are a bunch of crooks"; "[n]ot all Muslims are terrorists, but most are"; etc.

The plaintiff also claimed that her boss feigned ignorance of her country of origin and generally lumped many ethnicities into a single targeted group. The plaintiff's boss would generally act as if Morocco was part of the Middle East and did not care to observe nuances. When she complained about her treatment in 2012, her company "fired" her by looking to other employers to employ her. The justification was not enough work.

At the district level, the court granted summary judgment on the rather incredible finding that the harassment was not severe, and even more incredibly on her failure to present a genuine issue of material fact as to the pretext of her firing. This, of course, did not stand.

"Squarely Rebut"

In analyzing the Title VII and sec. 1981 case, the circuit found that the lower court should not have relied simply on the defendant's snapping right back with an answer. The key point is that a plaintiff simply "demonstrat[e] a genuine dispute of material fact" as to the pretext of her firing. Here, such a large body of facts over the years clearly met that burden. In fact, it was of little consequence whether or not Guessous "squarely rebut[ted]" her ex-employer's reasoning for her firing or not.

"Discrete Events"

More importantly, the circuit squarely deflated the lower court's finding that "discrete" events such as Guessous' firing could not be part of a "hostile work environment claim." This finding is correct. After all, what is an environment but a continuum of discrete events? This finding was in line with the SCOTUS case of Green v. Brennan, a recent discrimination case.

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