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Are Foreign-Born Employees Protected From Hostile Work Environment Harassment?

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Having handled employment discrimination cases for more than twenty years, our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida know that foreign-born employees continue to endure systemic discrimination. In far too many cases, foreign-born workers experience blatant discrimination in employment decisions, including hiring, promotion, and termination decisions. Foreign-born workers also experience egregious harassment in the workplace because of their national origin. Although obligated by employment discrimination law to protect foreign-born employees from harassment because of their national origin, employers seemingly demand that foreign-born employees suffer in silence and accept discriminatory harassment as a condition of being allowed to make a living. As a result, many foreign-born workers frequently have little means of defense—other than employment discrimination law.

In this article, our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida explain how the alleged facts in Sokolovsky v. Silver Lake Specialized Care Center, 2023 WL 5977298 (E.D. N.Y. Sept. 14, 2023) are illustrative of how employment discrimination law protects foreign-born employees from discriminatory harassment.

Protection From Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of color, race, national origin, sex, and religion. Title VII does not define the term “national origin.” In construing the meaning of the term “national origin” for purposes of Title VII, the Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Company., Inc., 414 U.S. 86 (1973) defined the term “national origin” as the “country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came.” In other words, the term “national origin” for purposes of Title VII means the country where an employee was born or the country of the employee’s ancestors. Under long standing law, national origin harassment is a form of national origin discrimination forbidden by Title VII. To violate Title VII, national origin harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile working environment.

Employment Discrimination Lawsuit

In Sokolovksy, a woman named Sokolovksy brought an employment discrimination case against her former employer, Silver Lake Specialized Care Center (“Silver Lake”), pursuant to Title VII. Silver Lake operates a rehabilitation and nursing home. Sokolovksy claims that she was subjected to hostile work environment harassment because of her national origin and religion.

Sokolovksy, who is from Russia and Jewish, immigrated to the United States in 1990. Sokolovksy was employed by Silver Lake for over twenty-five years before being fired in August 2019. Kraus is the owner of Silver Lake and was Sokolovksy’s supervisor. Torricelli became Sokolovksy’s manager ins June 2018.

Sokolovksy alleges that her superiors made discriminatory comments about her Russian national origin and Jewish religion “based upon the fact that she was not as observant as her bosses.” Sokolovksy also maintains that she was not compensated for all the hours that she worked because of her superiors’ animus towards her Russian national origin, and their belief that they could take advantage of her because she is from Russian and English is her second language. Kraus, according to Sokolovksy, made remarks about her “manners of Russia” and called her “an embarrassment to Jews.” In her attempts to become “more observant” in the Jewish religion, Sokolovksy alleges that she “requested to leave early on Fridays due to Shabbat observance,” but her requests were often ignored, and she was “forced to remain and work on Shabbat.”

In August 2019, Silver Lake fired Sokolovksy for purported “performance issues.” On or around the same day she was fired, Sokolovksy attended a meeting with Kraus, Torricelli, and others “with decision-making authority” over her employment. During this meeting, according to Sokolovksy, an employee named Weingarten advised Torricelli to “put all biases aside because [Sokolovksy] is Jewish or Russian.” Sokolovksy further alleges that at the same meeting, “senior Silver Lake executives” discussed how they would not have hired Sokolovksy due to her Russian national origin.

Evidence Of Hostile Work Environment

Silver Lake filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Sokolovksy’s hostile work environment harassment claim. In denying Silver Lake’s motion for dismissal, the trial court found that Sokolovksy plausibly alleged that she was subjected to hostile work environment harassment because of her national origin and religion in violation of Title VII.

In support of its conclusion, the trial court observed that Sokolovksy claims that she was subjected to “egregious” harassment because of her national origin and religion “during her final months at Silver Lake,” and that her bosses made “discriminatory comments” about her Russian national origin and her Jewish religion “based upon the fact that she was not as observant as her bosses.” The trial court also pointed out that Kraus allegedly made remarks about “a formal method of communication in this country,” complained about Sokolovksy’s “whining” about observing Shabbat, and that Sokolovksy was the “worst example of a Jew.” The trial court also noted that Sokolovksy claims that Silver Lake executives discussed “how they would have never hired [Sokolovksy] because she is from Russia,” and that Weingarten admonished fellow executives in a meeting near the date of Sokolovksy’s termination to “put all biases aside because [Sokolovksy] is Jewish or Russian. These allegations, the trial court concluded, were sufficient to state a hostile work environment harassment claim.

Marion County, FL Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida have litigated employment discrimination cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have been required to work in a hostile environment or have questions about your protection from hostile work environment harassment, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes hostile work environment harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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