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.
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- Race, color;
- Ancestry, national origin;
- Religion, creed;
- Age (over 40);
- Disability, mental and physical;
- Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions);
- Sexual orientation;
- Gender identity, gender expression;
- Medical condition;
- Genetic information;
- Marital status; and
- Military and veteran status.
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.