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“Barbie and Ken” remark reveal toxic workplace

Management comments, actions lead to claim

Posted October 7, 2022

The company had gone through some management changes and when Magali got a new boss — Bobbie. Magali and her coworkers were given a 30-day review. During that review, Magali’s job performance was questioned. Also, during those 30 days Bobbie hired a headhunter to find a replacement for Magali. The headhunter was instructed to keep the inquiry “super confidential.” A replacement was hired, and Magali was fired.

Magali felt that her firing had not, in fact, been motivated by her performance and she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging she was fired because of her national origin (Mexican) and because she had recently informed her employers that she was pregnant. The EEOC subsequently filed suit against the company.

The case revealed a highly toxic work environment. Some leaders expressed dismay at the fact that the office staff were “all Mexicans” and expressed a desire to “change the demographic[s]” of the staff. Testimony also called into question Bobbie’s contention that Magali was fired entirely based on her poor job performance. When hired, Bobbie had been told by company leaders to begin “working toward” Magali’s termination and to hire a “higher class of individual with the look of Ken and Barbie,” which Bobbie understood as a hiring preference for those who are “petite, attractive, young[,] and Caucasian.”

Evidence also suggested that Magali’s pregnancy may have played a role in her firing. When one of the leaders discovered that she was expecting a child, he became frustrated and stated that he believed she would take her full 12 weeks of FMLA leave because “all Mexicans do that.”

Bobbie would also later tell her superiors that Magali was pregnant and allegedly said that she was instructed to fire Magali because she “was Hispanic, and [because] she was expecting.”

Interestingly, a lower court sided with the employer, but the appeals court reversed, given the facts of discrimination, including for pregnancy.

EEOC; Magali Villalobos v. Ryan’s Pointe Houston, L.L.C.; Advantage Property Management, L.L.C., Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-20656, September 27, 2022.

This article was written by Darlene Clabault of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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