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42 U.S.C. §1981 Does Not Prohibit Discrimination on the Basis of an Individual’s Place or Nation of Origin

Quraishi v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc.
No. CCB-13-0010 (Maryland District Court, May 30, 2013)

by Elisabeth R. Connell, Summer Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

On May 30, 2013, Judge Blake of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted defendant Kaiser Foundation Health Plan’s (Kaiser) motion to dismiss. Agreeing with Kaiser’s argument that the plaintiff, Ms. Quraishi, failed to allege racial discrimination under the Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of race, Judge Blake dismissed the suit on the grounds that 42 U.S.C. § 1981 does not provide protection for individuals who may be discriminated against on the basis of their national origin.

Quraishi began working for Kaiser as a Health Information Management Service Baltimore Area Manager in February 2006. She received satisfactory job evaluations during 2006 and received an ‘Excellence’ award in 2007 for her job performance. At some point in 2008, Quraishi’s supervisor mimicked her Pakistani accent with two other managers, and thereafter did so frequently, despite Quraishi’s complaints about the conduct. In July of 2008, her supervisor informed Quraishi that she would be terminated, but placed her on a performance improvement plan when Quraishi complained that she had not received a warning of the impending termination. On October 21, 2008, Quraishi’s supervisor informed her that, although her performance had improved, she did not believe that improvement would continue, and gave Quraishi the option of being discharged or resigning with severance. Consequently, Quraishi sued Kaiser alleging racial discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.

Kaiser argued that these factual allegations pointed to national origin discrimination, not racial discrimination. The Supreme Court has defined race broadly for purposes of § 1981, finding that the statute protects, “identifiable classes of persons who are subjected to intentional discrimination solely because of their ancestry or ethnic characteristics.” Saint Francis Coll. v. Al-Khazraji, 481 U.S. 604, 613 (1987). Thus, “where a plaintiff’s allegations reference only his place of origin and do not focus on specific ethnic characteristics associated with that place of origin, the broad construction of race under § 1981 does not apply.” Akinjide v. Univ. of Md. E. Shore, Civ. No. DKC 09-2595, 2011 WL 4899999, *8 (D. Md. Oct. 13, 2011). Because Quraishi only alleged that her supervisor and two other managers mimicked her accent, this allegation was insufficient to invoke this broad construction of race.

Furthermore, the court noted that Quraishi failed to proffer sufficient circumstantial evidence to set forth a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Quraishi was required to show that 1) she is a member of a protected class; 2) she suffered adverse employment action; 3) she was performing her job duties at a level that met her employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of her adverse employment action; and 4) the position remained open or was filled by similarly qualified applicants outside the protected class. Holland v. Washington Homes, Inc., 487 F.3d 208, 214 (4th Cir. 2007). Quraishi’s complaint made no allegation that her position remained open, or that it was filled by someone outside of her protected class, so it necessarily failed to allege a prima facie case of racial discrimination. Because the court could not plausibly infer that Quraishi’s race was a motivating factor in her termination based on the allegations stated in her complaint, Kaiser’s motion to dismiss was granted.


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