Copyright (c) 2006 Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review
Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review
ARTICLE: BUT NAMES WILL NEVER HURT ME?: EL-HAKEM V. BJY, INC. AND TITLE VII LIABILITY FOR RACE DISCRIMINATION BASED ON AN EMPLOYEE'S NAME
16 Temp. Pol. & Civ. Rts. L. Rev. 283
Andrew M. Milz*
In El-Hakem v. BJY, Inc. 1 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was faced with deciding whether a manager's persistent referral to an Arab employee by a Westernized, non-Arabic name against the employee's repeated objections was race discrimination. 2 The appellants, an engineering firm and its Chief Executive Officer, contested the district court's adverse jury verdict which found that the CEO's repeated use of the name "Manny" over his employee's objections constituted intentional race discrimination and subsequently created a hostile work environment for which the employer corporation was vicariously liable. 3 Though the case appears, at first blush, to focus on a very narrow question, the decision of the panel breaks new ground in areas of discrimination law.
In the wake of this decision, several questions remain unanswered: Can a first name be a racial epithet? Can a racial epithet contain no reference to physical racial or ethnic traits? Does "Manny" fit anywhere within Title VII's spectrum of actionable "severe" offensive language to benign "mere offensive utterances"? Should a society protect one's right to his name? Where is the line between innocent behavior and actionable harassment drawn? This case note will analyze these and other questions in an effort to understand the significance of the Ninth Circuit's decision.
The El-Hakem court was correct in its decision, but its reasoning obscured the proper inquiry. In reaching its conclusion, the court expanded the boundaries of what constitutes actionable race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §1981 in order ...
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