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Reminder That Racial Bias May Be Established Through Just a Few Comments

A federal district court in Washington denied summary judgment to Royal Canin USA, LLC arising out of a claim of racial discrimination.
Alan Kwang, a Chinese-American man, was a Regional Sales Manager for Royal Canin for three years. A year before the end of his employment, he began reporting to a female Caucasian supervisor. Kwang alleged that she made discriminatory remarks to him about his race. In one specific conversation, several employees were discussing where to have lunch. A restaurant was suggested and an employee commented that “the food could be dog for all you know.” Kwang alleged that his supervisor said to him that Kwang would be okay with that “because his people eat that.” She allegedly made another comment that Kwang’s “people” are better at math and stated that she was glad she had an Asian on her team. Kwang alleged that he reported the comments to more high-ranking managers, who dismissed it. After receiving a poor performance review, Kwang made a formal complaint about the discriminatory comments. This complaint was also allegedly dismissed. Kwang was fired for purportedly ignoring an argument between his subordinates and for calling the receipt of an award by another manager “bullshit.” Kwang disputes that these incidents occurred and asserted that any concerns were not addressed with him prior to the termination.
In Royal Canin’s summary judgment motion, enough evidence was presented according to the court for a jury to find the comments made were sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. While the company had set forth legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for terminating him, the timing of his termination and complaint was enough for a fact-finder to determine that the reasons were pretextual and it had been retaliation.