Court of Appeals Criticizes Well-Funded Employers for Burying Employee Lawsuits with Paperwork

By Branden Hamilton

In Nazir v. United Airlines, Inc., Nazir, a man of Pakistani ancestry and a practicing Muslim, was terminated for sexual harassment in California after working for United Airlines for over 16 years. During his employment, Mr. Nazir was subjected to, among other indignities, relentless name-calling by his co-workers who regularly referred to him as “sand nigger,” “sand flea,” “rag head,” and “camel jockey.”

Mr. Nazir achieved the level of mechanic supervisor in 2001. He was terminated by his supervisor, Bernard Petersen, in 2005, for allegedly violating United Airlines’ zero tolerance sexual harassment policy in an incident involving Iris Avellan, a female employee of an outside service provider. Supervisor Petersen, who about Mr. Nazir had complained on numerous occasions, led the investigation into Ms. Avellan’s charge against Mr. Nazir. Supervisor Petersen refused to interview any of the individuals that Mr. Nazir claimed supported his version of the events during the course of the investigation.

Mr. Nazir sued United Airlines and his former supervisor for, among other things, retaliation, discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion, color, ancestry and national origin. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment/summary adjudication, with moving papers totaling 1056 pages. The trial court granted the Defendants’ motion and the Plaintiff appealed.

Less than 200 words into its opinion, the California Court of Appeals had labeled the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment the “poster child” for criticism of the summary judgment procedure in employment discrimination cases, calling Defendants’ motion, the most “oppressive motion ever presented to a superior court.” The Court expressly denounced the abuse of summary judgment procedure in employment litigation by “deep-pocket defendants” to “overwhelm less-funded litigants.”

Ultimately, the California Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment of the trial court finding there was fact to Nazir’s claims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. For the discrimination claims, the California Court of Appeals found there was a triable issue that Defendant United Airlines’ proffered reason for terminating Plaintiff’s employment was pretextual. To this end, the Court held that an inference of discrimination may be drawn from an employer’s failure to conduct an adequate investigation into an employee’s alleged misconduct supporting an allegedly discriminatory termination, and that such an investigation by an employer is inadequate where the person(s) in charge of conducting the investigation are not unbiased and fail to interview witnesses with potentially exculpatory information.

Notably, the Nazir Court went so far as to say in its opinion that summary judgment should rarely be granted in employment discrimination cases since an employer’s state of mind or motive is very difficult to discern on paper and there are rarely admissions of discriminatory intent.

Carlin and Buchsbaum are employee rights lawyers in Long Beach, California. Our workplace discrimination lawyers specialize in employment law and discrimination in the workplace. Please contact your Carlin & Buchsbaum Long Beach workplace harassment attorney with any questions.

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