Judge calls Baltimore City's argument in discrimination case 'abhorrent'

Elie Arsham used to be an engineer at Baltimore's Department of Public Works, until she was terminated in early 2014, after many years of service during which, she claims, she suffered such ill treatment at the hands of her supervisor, Prakash Mistry, that she attempted suicide. Arsham sued for discrimination because, she asserts, Mistry believed "that she was a member of the 'Parsee' ethnic group, and he expressed his disdain" for them, though Arsham's "ethnic heritage is Persian (modern-day Iran)," her lawsuit explains.

The Baltimore City Law Department's Amy Beth Leasure, in defending the city from the claims, seized on Mistry's misplaced understanding of Arsham's ethnicity to argue that antidiscrimination laws don't protect people from discrimination based on perceived national origin.

"The City," U.S. District Judge James Bredar wrote in an opinion on the matter issued yesterday, "presents a superficially logical, but fundamentally abhorrent, argument," the "obvious corollary" of which "is that it is lawful for an employer to discriminate against and individual based on the employer's mistaken perception of the individual's actual national origin." If that was held up as a legitimate defense, then a "wrong guess," he continued, "shields the employer from liability for discrimination that is no less injurious to the employee than if the employer guessed correctly regarding the employee's national origin."

Bredar is allowing Arsham's lawsuit to proceed on two grounds: perceived national origin discrimination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Arsham, represented by attorney W. Scott Hannon, seeks $1.2 million on the discrimination count and $200,000 on the infliction-of-emotional-distress count.

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