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March 1, 2006

Under both federal and state law, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee based upon national origin or ancestry. However, a recent case shows that such discrimination does not have to be based upon the employee’s physical or genetically determined characteristics such as skin color or physical traits. In El-Hakem v. BJY, Inc., the claim of discrimination was based upon the chief executive officer’s repeated use of a non-Arabic name instead of the employee’s Arabic name. In this case, Gregg Young, the chief executive officer of BJY, Inc. repeatedly called Mamdouh El-Hakem, who is of Arabic heritage “Manny.” Young’s explanation was that he believed that a “western” name would increase El-Hakem’s chances for success and would be more acceptable to BJY’s clientele.

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