In Khalaf v. Ford Motor Company (6th Cir., No. 19-1435, 8/31/2020), the Sixth Circuit reversed a jury verdict from the Eastern District of Michigan against Ford Motor Company on Khalaf’s Title VII and state law race and national origin discrimination, and retaliation claims. Khalaf worked for Ford as a non-management process engineer and alleged his supervisor’s and coworkers’ “disrespectful” and “hostile” comments about his poor English-language skills constituted a hostile work environment. Khalif also alleged retaliation and constructive discharge. The district court denied Ford’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, which argued the alleged conduct was not sufficiently severe or pervasive enough to constitute unlawful harassment. The jury awarded Khalaf $15 million in punitive damages, but the trial court reduced the verdict to $300,000 in punitive damages, in addition to various economic losses.

In an extensive and detailed analysis of the evidence, the Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that none of the alleged incidents of harassment were based on Khalaf’s national origin, and while rude, they did not satisfy the “severe and pervasive” requirement for a hostile work environment. The court further held there was insufficient evidence for a claim of retaliation as the requisite protected activity was lacking, Khalaf’s placement on an performance improvement plan was not retaliatory, and there was otherwise insufficient evidence for the jury to conclude Khalif was constructively discharged.