Lynn Nakagawa has reported in Pacific Business News that a state appellate court in Hawaii has just reversed a lower court dismissal of a national origin discrimination and retaliation suit by a French national, who alleged that he was terminated from his job after he was called anti-French names, such as Frenchy,” by his managers.

The employee claimed that one of his supervisors often told him to go back to France because “America does not need French people,” and that another supervisor often referred to him as “French fries.”

The EEOC had originally issued a determination that the employee was harassed because of his national origin, but no determination that he was wrongfully terminated, but the lower court found no evidence of discrimination based upon the employee’s national origin, or that “Frenchy” was anything more than a nickname and not an ethnic slur.

Of note was that the lower court directed that the employee pay more than $158,000 in attorney’s fees and costs to the employer.  It is not clear from the published accounts of the case whether the award of legal fees was under Title VII (which, to a prevailing employer would have been rare indeed), or under a state statute in Hawaii.

"Those involved in the case say the reversal is important because it emphasizes that slurs based on ethnicity or nationality are illegal under civil rights law," noted Nakagawa.