Mamou v. Trendwest Resorts, Inc., 165 Cal. App. 4th 686 (2008)

Tamer Mamou was employed as a project director for Trendwest (a company that sells timeshares at various resort locations) when he was terminated after approximately 12 years of employment. Trendwest terminated Mamou after it became aware that he had filed documents with the California Secretary of State in which it appeared Mamou was seeking to establish a competing resale company. Mamou testified, however, that his attempts to explain the situation were rebuffed and that one of the supervisors who was in the termination meeting said to him, “I’m disappointed in you, my Arab friend.” Another supervisor who was involved in the termination testified that although Mamou was not terminated for performance-related reasons, he had instructed HR to “take the lead on building a file relating to Tamer’s performance over the last six months” – and that specific areas to be addressed included “disability claims” and other “HR related claims.” Mamou also offered evidence of negative references and allusions to his Middle Eastern national origin and of various disparaging comments that were made about him after his termination. Mamou sued for national origin discrimination and retaliation for having opposed the company’s adverse treatment of employees who exercised their right to take family medical leave, and he also asserted a defamation claim. Although the trial court granted summary judgment to Trendwest, the Court of Appeal reversed, holding that “there was ample evidence to support…an inference [that Trendwest’s claimed reason for the firing] was false, beginning with the fact that Trendwest never rested on a single coherent explanation for its firing of Mamou, and that several if not all of its explanations were, to put it mildly, questionable.” The Court also found a triable issue of material fact as to whether malice existed, thus vitiating the qualified privilege defense to the alleged defamation. Cf. Parra v. Bashas’, Inc., 536 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2008) (district court abused its discretion in failing to certify plaintiffs’ class action alleging national origin discrimination in pay practices); Lukovsky v. City and County of San Francisco, 535 F.3d 1044 (9th Cir. 2008) (national origin and race discrimination claims based on failure to hire were barred by statute of limitations).