Utah Employment Law Letter - May 2012: Discrimination: Living On The Edge by Brinton Wilkins

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A story was once told about an employer in the Wild West that was looking to hire a stagecoach driver. The employer gave the three applicants a driving test. They were to drive the coach as close as they safely could to the edge of a dangerous cliff. Two of the drivers drove the coach so close to the cliff that the coach’s wheels hung over the edge. The third driver, however, said that the safest route was to stay as far from the edge as possible. The third driver got the job. Recently, several state employees drove themselves dangerously close to the edge of acceptable behavior. While a technicality ultimately saved them, their actions came close to dropping them off a precipitous legal ledge.

A little too close

In January 2004, Salt Lake County hired Soudabeh Darvish as a health inspector. She has a master’s degree in occupational and industrial hygiene and had worked as an inspector for both Salt Lake County and the state of Utah for several years. Darvish is Muslim and was born in Iran. During the standard six-month probationary period for all new employees, she reportedly overheard coworker Jessie Morris say to a lead inspector, “These Persians cannot come here and tell us what to do.”

Darvish complained about the insensitive comment to her supervisor, Eric Peterson, and asked to be moved to another team. Peterson refused to move her and took no disciplinary action against Morris. In March, he began taking disciplinary action against Darvish. For example, she received a written “verbal warning” stating she had improperly inspected several level-3 and level-4 food establishments because Peterson claims he instructed her to inspect only level-1 and level-2 restaurants. However, Peterson later admitted (1) his original instructions were unclear, (2) Darvish had inspected higherlevel restaurants in her previous employment, and (3) the list of establishments given to her to inspect did include several level-3 and level-4 establishments.

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