Wash.: Court Dismisses Fired Worker’s Unsubstantiated Discrimination Suit

By Kirk Rafdal Nov 24, 2014

Poor performance, not discrimination, led to the termination of a Washington state contract employee, a federal court ruled in dismissing the case.

In February 2012, American Tire Distributors (ATD) contacted a staffing agency for a software professional to help expand its online presence. Shaw Rahman was selected for the assignment, and he began working at ATD’s offices shortly thereafter. Under the conditions of his contract, Rahman was considered an at-will employee who could quit or be terminated with two weeks’ notice, or no notice in the event of “willful misconduct or non non-performance,” or in the event that a client requested his removal “for any reason.”

Almost immediately, ATD complained about Rahman’s performance. According to his immediate supervisor at ATD, Rahman failed to show progress on his assignments and was reticent when asked about deadlines. When Rahman ran diagnostics on the wrong server, nearly crashing that system, ATD summarily terminated his contract, and he soon thereafter was fired by the staffing agency without notice.

Rahman, a Muslim and native of Bangladesh, filed suit in federal court alleging that ATD’s dissatisfaction with his performance served merely a pretext for discrimination based on his national origin and religion. Representing himself in court, Rahman maintained that he was making progress on his work assignments and that any shortcomings were the result of ATD’s interference or lack of cooperation. Rahman also cited three episodes in which his nationality and religion were discussed by coworkers — and which he claimed created a hostile work environment. The comments, which were not made by supervisors, concerned the citizenship laws of India and Bangladesh, South-Asian cricket rivalries, and that Rahman, though of Bangladeshi descent, had Indian-like features.

ATD motioned for dismissal of the case and submitted evidence of Rahman’s poor performance, including e-mails in which Rahman’s assignments and missed deadlines were discussed. ATD also asserted that Rahman’s immediate supervisors were unaware of his nationality or religious practices.

The court, summarizing the evidence presented by Rahman, noted that he made only conclusory and subjective arguments as to the quality of his work and any alleged discriminatory treatment. Regarding his coworkers’ comments, the court found that they were innocuous in nature, not made by supervisors, and not hinting of any discriminatory animus. By contrast, ATD submitted documentary evidence that objectively and persuasively depicted an employee who was falling short of his employer’s expectations. As such, the court found Rahman’s assertions to lack the credibility necessary to move forward with a trial. At best, the court said Rahman could show only that he was a member of a protected class and that he had been terminated. “There is no evidence, however, that any person involved in hiring, supervising, or terminating plaintiff's employment knew, much less harbored animosity about, his national origin or religion.”

The court dismissed Rahman’s claims in their entirety.

Rahman v. Am. Tire Distrib., W.D. Wash., No. C13-0410RSL (Nov. 17, 2014).

Kirk Rafdal, J.D., is a staff writer for SHRM.

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