National Origin (Albanian) Hostile Work Environment Title VII Claim Survives Summary Judgment

In a recent case, Chillmon v. Village of Evergreen Park Illinois, 2No. 20 CV 7379, 2023 WL 5980008 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 14, 2023), the court, inter alia, denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s national origin-based hostile work environment claim asserted under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

From the decision:

A reasonable jury could find that animus toward Chillmon’s national origin drove Clarin’s criticism of her. Clarin knew that she was an immigrant,9 and a jury could reasonably infer that his disproportionate public criticism of Chillmon’s English skills and mistakes in the bulletin were motivated by her national origin. See Hong, 993 F.2d at 1265 (“[T]he statement, ‘learn to speak English,’ could be circumstantial proof of … discriminatory animus ….”); see also 29 C.F.R. § 1606.1 (defining national origin broadly and including “linguistic characteristics”); Raad v. Fairbanks N. Star Borough Sch. Dist., 323 F.3d 1185, 1195 (9th Cir. 2003) (“Accent and national origin are obviously inextricably intertwined in many cases.” (internal quotation omitted)). The evidence that Clarin’s English-related comments were based on national-origin bias “in turn permits a jury to conclude that [national origin] played a part in all of [Clarin’s] actions.” Hall, 713 F.3d at 333–34 (one comment containing gender-biased language permitted such an inference, even though “most of [the] conduct was devoid of gender-specific indicia”); see also Alamo v. Bliss, 864 F.3d 541, 550–51 (7th Cir. 2017) (allegation of racial slurs allowed the plaintiff’s food being thrown out and physical altercations to support hostile environment claim). Thus, a jury could consider Clarin’s other behavior, such as requiring Chillmon to ask permission to use the restroom, making employees submit questions their peers asked in writing, and monitoring Chillmon’s phone calls [Chillmon Dep. at 58:3–62:19], as contributing to the hostile environment, even if that conduct would not be actionable in the absence of evidence of bias against her national origin.

Based on this, the court concluded that based on the totality of circumstances/conduct, a jury could find that the hostility plaintiff faced was “severe and pervasive.”

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