Inflamatory statement stoaked a national origin discrimination lawsuit.

by on January 5, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Inflammatory statements can make a national origin discrimination in the workplace lawsuit

Victoria Castro was well aware that she wasn’t a popular Spanish teacher. But then again she wasn’t at Lowford High School to win any popularity contests; she was there to teach. And the native Spaniard felt she taught Spanish quite well, gracias.

Victoria’s classes were unruly, and she’d been the subject of several complaints from parents. But she was shocked when her principal, Fred Barker, told her that her contract wouldn’t be renewed for the next year.

“You can’t be serious,” said Victoria. “Discipline’s a problem here at Lowford. I’ve gotten my share of complaints, but that’s because I’m firm. Parents and students complain about other strict teachers too. I give out a lot of detentions, and detentions are unpopular.”

“You’re not meeting the standards we set for you,” said Fred.

Inappropriate comments?

“Nonsense,” said Victoria. “You told me once that you believed women should stay home with their children.”

“So what?” asked Fred. “That has nothing to do with your contract not being renewed. Your grading system is inconsistent, you don’t communicate well and you’re disorganized.”

Victoria bristled. “You’ve never wanted me here. Before you even saw me teach you said that foreign nationals do not make the best language teachers. Your mind was made up before I had a chance.”

Fred disagreed. “I was expressing my opinions, to which I’m entitled. Besides, I interviewed you and I made a recommendation to hire you. But the decision was the school board’s, not mine. And it was the same with the decision not to renew your contract – as well as another teacher’s, who happens to be an American-born man.”

Victoria sued her employer for gender and national origin discrimination in the workplace. Did she win?

The decision

No. Victoria lost her case.

While the principal’s comments about mothers staying at home and foreign nationals not being as good at teaching as American-born educators may have been disturbing, the judge determined that the principal wasn’t a decision-maker. Had he been one, those comments would have been more damaging to the school’s case.

Poor classroom management

The court noted that on two occasions when Fred suggested to Victoria that she should stay at home and raise her children, he was merely sharing his opinion. Such statements don’t constitute discrimination, said the court.

Further, the district kept good records of all of Victoria’s performance reviews. When looked at in their totality, they portrayed a teacher lacking classroom-management skills, a consistent manner of grading and an effective communication style.

Victoria was one of two teachers whose contracts weren’t renewed. The other was an American-born man. Had that teacher been a woman or foreign-born, it might have bolstered Victoria’s national origin discrimination lawsuit.

This case illustrates the importance of avoiding any inflammatory statements that may lead an employee to believe she was the target of national origin discrimination.

It’s a good idea to remind managers who interview job candidates to keep their personal opinions to themselves.

Cite: Coral Mateu-Anderegg v. School District of Whitefish Bay, U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit, No. 01-3674, 8/26/02. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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