Business trips are a fact of life for many employees. Reserving hotel rooms for these trips is commonplace: either the employee or a company representative contacts the hotel, and the hotel then arranges a room for that guest based on its current availability. In spite of this, a disgruntled individual recently tried to sue his former company based on little more than the room he was assigned during one such trip in Rahman v. Crystal Equation, No. 2:13-cv-00218 (W.D. Wash. Mar. 5, 2014).
Shaw Rahman was hired by staffing company Crystal Equation, and subsequently assigned to work for AT&T, as a software architect. After several months on the job, Mr. Rahman was notified that his position was being eliminated. He then sued both Crystal Equation and AT&T for, among other things, discrimination based on his religion (Muslim) and national origin (Bangladeshi).
Absurdly, the basis for his religious discrimination claim was that he once had to stay in Room “911” of a hotel during a business trip months earlier. According to him, this booking “was intended to humiliate and remind him of the events on September 11, 2001.” He presented no evidence whatsoever that anyone deliberately requested that room number, let alone that they did so because of Mr. Rahman’s faith. The hotel receipt provided by Mr. Rahman, as the court noted, “only shows he stayed in room 911, not that Crystal Equation … placed him there.” The court therefore granted summary judgment to the defendants.
The plaintiff’s national origin discrimination claim fared no better. According to him, Mr. Rahman had provided a copy of his passport, which showed his legal name as Mohammed Rahman, during his hiring process. He then claimed that, if the passport were provided to other supervisors at AT&T, they would “instantly know that [he] would be from Bangladesh because Mohammad Rahman is a very common name in Bangladesh and not too common in India.” Rejecting this highly speculative (if not stereotypical) statement, the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence for Mr. Rahman to make out a claim of discrimination. Mr. Rahman’s remaining claims were also dismissed.
This case serves as a gentle reminder in our highly sensitive culture that sometimes coincidences, however unfortunate, are just that—coincidences. Thankfully for hotel chains, there are no religious groups or other protected classes (at least none of which I am aware) whose members require accommodations on the 13th floor.