Ask The Lawyer WHAT’S IN A NAME? By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
QUESTION: My parents gave me an ethnic name as a link to my cultural heritage. I just saw a television show where one of the hosts stated she would not hire people with ethnic names. I like my name, but as I’m just about to graduate and interview on-campus for positions, should I change my name to something more generic?
ANSWER: While it’s up to you whether to change your name, an employer who makes an employment decision based on an ethnic name can be sued for violating the law. Employment discrimination statutes state that employment decisions cannot be motived by race or ethnic background, among other categories. In a published case against a discount department store, for example, the court awarded damages to employees who were not hired based on evidence the store listened to voice mail messages from applicants to determine their ethnic background. That employer also violated the law where its hiring managers gave low scores to applicants who had majored in African-American studies or where an applicant had published a senior thesis about racial inequities in a public school system. If a potential employer scores your application poorly and it can be proven that the decision was motivated by race or ethnic background because of your name, that employer has violated the law.
To change your name seems like a drastic step. You may be better served by researching a prospective employer’s diversity policy or its history, good or bad, when it comes to hiring qualified minority applicants.
The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at www.gwinntauriainenlaw.com.
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3310 facsimile
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