Employment-Second Circuit Rules That Plaintiff’s Retaliation Claim, That He Was Fired For Complaining About A Derogatory Comment On His Background/Religion, Fails Because Plaintiff Did Not Provide Any Proof Of The Employer’s Intent To Retaliate

In El Sayed v. Hilton Hotels, No. 10-453 (Second Circuit 2010), the plaintiff brought suit alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for complaining about a derogatory comment concerning his background and religion, in violation of Title VII.

In this case, the plaintiff, Walid El Sayed, is a United States citizen of Egyptian descent, who is Muslim. He was hired by the defendant, Hilton Hotels, as an Assistant to the Director of Housekeeping in December 2004. He was terminated on August 9, 2006, approximately three weeks after he complained to the defendant that a co-worker referred to him as a “Terrorist Muslim Taliban.” The defendant stated that the decision to terminate the plaintiff was not based on his complaint about the co-worker’s comment, but rather was based upon the fact that the plaintiff had omitted certain prior employment history from his work application, which was discovered in August 2006, and which constituted grounds for dismissal under the defendant’s employment policies.

In analyzing the case, the Court said that, by demonstrating temporal proximity between his complaint about the derogatory comment and his discharge, the plaintiff arguably established a prima facie case of retaliation under Title VII. However, under the three step burden-shifting framework set out in the McDonnell Douglas case, the prima facie case establishes only a rebuttable presumption of retaliation. The district court accepted the defendant’s explanation of the legitimate non-retaliatory reasons for the plaintiff’s discharge. At that point, the burden shifted back to the plaintiff to come forward with evidence establishing that it is more likely than not the employer’s decision was motivated, at least in part, by an intent to retaliate against him. The Court found that the plaintiff had no such evidence, and ruled that the plaintiff’s claim of retaliation fails.