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Sara Lee to face anti-Muslim harassment suit in California court

Often enough, the outcome of a lawsuit depends at least in small part on the type of court that hears it. Part of litigation strategy in employment law and other areas is choosing whether to bring a case in state or federal court, if both have jurisdiction, along with whether to file individually or as a class action. Both plaintiffs and defendants try to gauge which court is more likely to be sympathetic to their case, whether state or federal law is more favorable to their position, and simply which court is more conveniently located.

This became an issue in a recent case in which a California man filed a lawsuit alleging egregious discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin and religion. The man worked for Sara Lee Corp. and filed his lawsuit in Alameda County against Sara Lee and two companies that distribute products under that brand name, along with his former supervisor and a human resources manager.

For whatever strategic reason, Sara Lee wanted the case moved to federal court. To achieve that, it filed a motion with the Alameda County court claiming that only a federal court could hear the case for two reasons. First, it accused the plaintiff of fraudulently bringing the former supervisor and HR manager into the case, but the court rejected that claim.

Second, it claimed that the case couldn’t be brought in state court because, it claimed, none of the defendants lived in or were incorporated in California. When a plaintiff from one state sues a defendant in another, the case often does have to be brought in federal court. However, since the judge approved the inclusion of the supervisor and HR manager, there ultimately were defendants who lived in California.

What really matters is not the legal wrangling, of course, but this man’s discrimination and harassment claims which, if true, are outrageous. According to the lawsuit, co-workers openly called him by anti-Muslim nicknames and made statements like "all fucking Arabs do nothing but ride fucking camels." They taunted him with a picture of Osama Bin Laden’s body sprayed with bullet holes and told him he should take Sept. 11 should as a holiday. His HR manager responded to his complaint by making veiled threats. His supervisor harassed him about his immigration status and demanded to see his green card.

Such actions cannot be defended as legitimate personnel management decisions, and Sara Lee has to answer for any actions taken on its behalf, if they can be proved. The case will be heard in Alameda County.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Sara Lee Discrimination Case Booted From Federal," Elizabeth Warmerdam, July 31, 2013

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Law Offices of Allan A. Sigel, P.C.

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