Worker Claims Employment Discrimination Based on her Asian Heritage

. By Anne Wallace

California florist files wrongful termination lawsuit naming owners of Four Seasons Hotel.

Actually, Jennie Lam's California labor lawsuit calls out the owners of the Los Angeles Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel for race discrimination, harassment, whistleblower retaliation, age discrimination, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Beverly Cohen, one of the owners, seems to have been particularly given to racist comments. But requiring an employee to work without rest or meal breaks in a 100-degree heated greenhouse or to use dangerous tools without training is also pretty bad.

The new 'Queen of Mean'?

The late Leona Helmsley, self-styled Empress of the Helmsley Palace hotel, aka 'Queen of Mean' may finally have met her match. In her complaint, Lam claims that Cohen referred to her as "the little Chinese girl" and told her, "I don't like you, whatever the hell your background is, Vietnamese or Chinese." Lam claims that Cohen told her that "Asian people are meant to work hard," and that working in 100 degree heat would be good for her complexion. When Lam refused to use a saw that she had not been trained to use, a co-worker stepped in and was promptly injured. Lam suffered a panic attack and was fired as she left work.

Firing a worker out of racial animus is against the law

More than nasty, the behavior described in Lam's lawsuit appears to violate both federal and California law. As a starting point, it is important to recognize that, under the doctrine of "employment at will," employers may usually fire employees for any or no reason, at all -- unless the firing has a particular, prohibited motivation. Firing an employee or being cruel is not illegal unless the underlying reason is specifically spelled out in law. Then it's wrongful termination.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. That is generally considered to cover ethnic heritage, as well.

California law provides even more extensive protection, banning employment discrimination because of:

Lam's case is not a slam dunk, of course, because proving motivation can always be tricky. But for many employees, knowing that their employment rights are protected is more than half the battle.

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