A federal court in Washington recently took up the case of a Muslim software architect who claimed harassment on the basis of his religion and national origin. After staying in a room numbered 911 at a hotel on a business trip, he believed someone at his company booked him in that particular room to harass him because they knew that his first name is Mohammed, in order to remind him of the 9/11 terror attacks. The case is Rahman v. Crystal Equation, Case No. C13-218-MJP, 2014 BL 60144, 121 FEP Cases 1810 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 05, 2014).
The court found that Mr. Rahman presented no evidence at all beyond a mere suspicion that he was the target of religious or national origin-based discrimination and dismissed his claims on summary judgment.
The lesson for employees to carry away from this illustration is that it’s really important to be able to present evidence to back up one’s hunch that his employer has singled him out on some impermissible basis. While Title VII and North Carolina law forbid discrimination or harassment in employment on the basis of race, national origin, and religion, among other categories, a plaintiff must be able to prove more than just a suspicion that illegal discrimination has occurred.
On the facts in the Washington case, the plaintiff couldn’t even produce evidence that anyone from his employer had requested a specific room number for him. Coincidence or not, he didn’t meet his burden of proof.
Employees should be prepared with documentation, testimony from co-workers, or other evidence that connect the dots between an adverse employment action or harassment and purported discriminatory intent.