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An Amazon executive’s alleged discriminatory animus coupled with an allegedly critical corporate “ethos” may be enough to show that a Syrian-Muslim technology manager wasn’t promoted and was eventually fired because of his national origin or religion, a federal judge in Michigan ruled.
The ruling shows that evidence of a company’s culture may be used to bolster a job discrimination claim even if it isn’t alleged that the culture itself reflects bias. Here, a jury could believe that Amazon’s work environment, which encouraged employees to be critical of one another as a way to spur improved performance, may have exacerbated the discrimination that Abdullah Haydar alleges Amazon Vice President of Marketplace Peter Faricy injected “from the top” of the company, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan said.
It’s “reasonable to think that those lower in the corporate hierarchy take cues from the top,” Judge Laurie J. Michelson said. She cited testimony from Haydar’s expert witness that “political astuteness” may cause lower-level managers to toe the line when someone above them on the organizational ladder speaks poorly about a worker.
Michelson also cited a 2015 New York Times article that she said stated that “in terms of feedback, Amazonians made ‘quiet pacts with colleagues to bury the same person at once.’” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reacted to that article by sending a memo to Amazon employees disputing the story and urging them to bring bias complaints to human resources or to Bezos personally.
According to Haydar, Faricy made comments at various meetings about Haydar not spending enough time with his wife that Faricy didn’t make about non-Syrian, non-Muslim employees.
There’s also evidence that Faricy made the decision to lower a performance evaluation Haydar received in 2013-2014, the court said. It said a jury could find Faricy’s involvement in that job review was directly related to Haydar’s eventual termination in September 2015.
A jury could also find that a performance improvement plan Haydar was placed on was “mission impossible,” Michelson said. Thus, although Haydar had a long history of managers citing him for communications and leadership deficiencies and his case “is not a particularly strong one,” trial is necessary on his national origin and religious discrimination claims under federal and Michigan law, the judge said.
The court granted summary judgment to Amazon on Haydar’s marital status bias, retaliation, and public policy claims.
“We do not comment on pending litigation,” Amazon told Bloomberg Law in a Sept. 10 email.
Haydar’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond Sept. 10 to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment.
Nacht & Roumel P.C. represents Haydar. Littler Mendelson P.C. represents Amazon.
The case is Haydar v. Amazon Corp., 2018 BL 323349, E.D. Mich., No. 2:16-cv-13662, summary judgment denied in part 9/7/18.
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