Catering to Israeli Guests May Cost Mandarin Hotel

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A Moroccan American can advance claims that the luxury hotel where he works restricted him during a visit from Israeli diplomats, and then cut his hours when he complained, a federal judge ruled.
     Mohamed Arafi says a delegation of Israeli diplomats booked into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10, 2010. The delegation is a regular guest of the U.S. State Department, and often stays at the hotel, he claims.
     On the day of their arrival, a supervisor allegedly told workers who were either Arab or Muslim to avoid the floors where the delegates were staying.
     Arafi, a valet dry cleaner for the hotel, says he received such directions. He identifies himself as a U.S. citizen born in Morocco who practices Islam. The supervisor allegedly told Arafi: “You know how the Israelis are with Arabs and Muslims.”
     Over the next several days, another supervisor and the hotel’s director of human resources similarly brushed off Arafi’s complaints, according to lawsuit Arafi filed in 2011.
     Supervisors allegedly said that “the Israeli delegation is very selective about who serves them,” and that the hotel had to accommodate those desires.
     Arafi says he complied with his supervisor’s instructions, and consequently lost out on tips.
     A week later, the director of human resources told Arafi that the State Department had conducted background checks on the hotel’s employees, and that these checks uncovered some “irregularities” with regard to a dozen employees, including Arafi, according to the complaint.
     The HR director allegedly said that the hotel did not know what those irregularities were. Over the next month, however, Arafi says he was scheduled to only work one day a week as opposed to his normal schedule of five to seven days per week.
     Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group moved to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges disparate treatment and retaliation in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act and the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act.
     Finding that the disparate-treatment claim failed to show that Arafi suffered an adverse employment action, U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein dismissed that count.
     For this claim to survive, it would have to show “a significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing significant change in benefits,” the decision states.
     Arafi’s claim of fewer tips from two restricted floors for the delegation’s three-day say does not make the cut, Rothstein found..
     While denial of money could constitute an adverse employment action, the potential tips were so small in this case that their deprivation cannot rise to the level of an adverse employment actions, according to the ruling, which notes Arafi earned $133 in tips for the entire year of 2010.
     Arafi’s retaliation claim fared better.
     “Plaintiff’s retaliation claim survives so long as he alleged facts that support that he made complaints to the hotel’s management about what he perceived to be his supervisor’s discriminatory behavior,” Rothstein wrote.
     “The complaint alleges the plaintiff complained to a supervisor about ‘discriminatory treatment,’ a reasonable grievance considering the alleged facts,” she added. “Drawing all inferences in favor of plaintiff, the court determines that plaintiff has successfully alleged that he engaged in protected activity when he complained of discrimination, thereby satisfying the first element of the Title VII and DCHRA retaliation claims.”
     “Here, plaintiff alleges the defendant only scheduled him to work one day during the month that followed his discrimination complaints, whereas previously he had worked anywhere from five to seven days per week,” the ruling states.
     “Plaintiff’s reduction in work schedule for a month would have reasonably been accompanied by a non-trivial reduction in pay,” Rothstein added. “Thus, plaintiff has successfully alleged an objective tangible harm so as to constitute a material adverse action supporting the Title VII and DCHAR retaliation claims.”

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