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Muslim bookkeeper's bias charges reinstated

Posted On: Jul. 7, 2016 12:00 AM CST

Muslim bookkeeper's bias charges reinstated

A federal appeals court has reinstated a religious and national discrimination lawsuit filed by a bookkeeping assistant who is an Arab-American Muslim.

Monica Guessous, who worked at Falls Church, Virginia-based Fairview Property Investments L.L.C., a property management firm, from February 2007 until her March 2013 termination, also charged the firm with pregnancy discrimination, a hostile work environment and retaliation, and the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, reinstated these charges as well in its ruling Wednesday in Monica Guessous v. Fairview Property Investments L.L.C.

“Guessous recounted numerous allegations of mistreatment” by her supervisor, Greg Washenko, said the ruling. For instance at their first meeting, he told her that he had worked with a “bunch of Middle Easterners and they are a bunch of crooks who will stop at nothing to screw you.”

He also consistently conflated her identity as Moroccan Muslim with other Middle Eastern identities, and she was “dragged into uncomfortable, and often offensive, discussions on current events,” as well as about her religion, according to the ruling.

In addition, Mr. Washenko had an “intrusive and overbearing approach” to managing her, and “would often leave his office to stand behind her desk and inquire what she was working on,” as many as 40 times a day, said the ruling.

Mr. Guessous became pregnant and upon her return from maternity leave in October 2012 found her old work duties and been assigned to other staff members.

In December 2012, 75 minutes after she asked for her old duties back, the company president sent out two e-mails to other employers not associated with Fairview asking whether they had any openings for “a wonderful girl” for whom Fairview did not have enough work.

Ms. Guessous was terminated on March 1, 2013, and her work duties were shifted to two staff members, an outside contractor and Mr. Washenko.

Ms. Guessous filed suit against the company in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, which granted Fairview summary judgment on all counts, stating the firm had met its burden of producing a nondiscriminatory reason — lack of work — for its conduct in terminating Ms. Guessous.

The 4th Circuit reinstated all charges in a unanimous decision that was critical of the lower court's ruling

“The record is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to conclude that Fairview's lack-of-work claim is a pretext for discrimination,” said the ruling.

“By falling to address numerous comments that were open to a racially motivated interpretation, and by circumscribing its analysis to just one comment without reviewing the totality of the circumstances, the district court committed reversible error in this grant of summary judgment for Fairview,” said the ruling in vacating the summary judgment order on all counts and remanding the case for further proceedings.