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Bakhtiar v. Infineon Technologies Americas Corp.

Superior Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

May 29, 2019

Mohammad Bakhtiar
Infineon Technologies Americas Corp. et al.[1]

          Judge (with first initial, no space for Sullivan, Dorsey, and Walsh): Yarashus, Valerie A., J.


          Valerie A. Yarashus, Justice


          The plaintiff, Mohammad Bakhtiar ("Bakhtiar"), brings this action claiming employment discrimination and retaliation by his former employer, Infineon Technologies Americas Corp. ("Infineon"), and his former supervisor, Derek Richardson ("Richardson"). Bakhtiar alleges that despite a long and positive work history at Infineon, he suffered discrimination upon being assigned Richardson as his. supervisor. Under Richardson’s supervision, Bakhtiar received his first negative work reviews at the company and was ultimately terminated as part of a "reduction in force," that Bakhtiar now alleges was pretextual. Bakhtiar asserts claims of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in violation of G.L.c. 151B, § 1, and retaliation in violation of G.L.c. 151B, § 1. The defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment requesting dismissal of all counts. For the following reasons, the defendants’ Motion is DENIED .

          II. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the summary judgment record, which includes the pleadings, deposition transcripts, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits. The evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Attorney Gen. v. Bailey, 386 Mass. 367, 370 (1982).

          Bakhtiar was hired as a senior process engineer by a predecessor entity to Infineon in 2008. He worked for the same company previously in an unspecified position. Between 2008 and 2014, Bakhtiar received generally positive performance reviews, performance bonuses, and was never disciplined. For example, his review for 2014 indicated that he "exceeds expectations." Managers and co-workers provided positive statements about Bahktiar’s work performance. Bakhtiar’s work experience at Infineon was positive up through April 2015.

          In April 2015, Richardson was assigned to be Bakhtiar’s manager and Bakhtiar began reporting to him. From the time he began reporting to Richardson, Bakhtiar noticed that he was being treated differently than other engineers who reported to Richardson. Bakhtiar identifies as non-Caucasion based upon race, and identifies his national origin as Iranian. With the Caucasian engineers, Richardson "made time for them," communicated with them, and appeared to enjoy working with them. Bakhtiar noticed that Richardson did not make the same effort to get to know him and was not receptive to Bakhtiar’s attempts to communicate and get to know Richardson.

          In April 2015, Bakhtiar began working on a "Lead Bend Project." Bakhtiar’s communications to Richardson about the project were met with negative feedback about the completion of the project. On June 22, 2015, Richardson wrote a document indicating that Bakhtiar’s performance was "not meeting expectations." Bakhtiar did not believe the negative feedback from Richardson to be based on the merits of his work, but instead on discriminatory animus.

          Two days after receiving the June 22 document drafted by Richardson, Bakhtiar met with the company’s Human Resources Manager, Patricia Briscoe ("Briscoe"), and Vice President of Operations, Michael Robinson ("Robinson"). Bakhtiar told Briscoe that he was concerned that Richardson’s assessment of his job performance was incorrect, and that he was being treated differently from other engineers supervised by Richardson.[2] At the meeting, Briscoe offered to look for another position for Bakhtiar under a different manager, but another position never materialized.

          Bakhtiar believed that his communication with Briscoe was a formal complaint about the disparate treatment he felt he was receiving from Richardson. Infineon’s employee handbook instructs employees to report incidents of discrimination and to speak with the Human Resources Department about them.

          Bakhtiar continued to work on the Lead Bend Project. He completed the project and emailed his results to Richardson on July 31, 2015, prior to the deadline Richardson assigned.[3] Bakhtiar continued to work on other projects under Richardson’s supervision. Their relationship did not improve.

          In September 2015, Bakhtiar received a performance bonus. According to Bakhtiar, it was the lowest bonus he had ever received while working for Infineon. Bonuses were determined, in at least part, by the feedback provided by the employee’s supervisor. On July 7, 2015, Richardson gave Bakhtiar a score of "1," the lowest score being "0," when asked by his supervisor to rate Bakhtiar for his bonus. Richarson also communicated to his supervisor that he wanted Bakhtiar "gone" at that time.

          Bakhtiar met with Briscoe on September 30, 2015 to discuss what he viewed as an unjustifiably low bonus. At that meeting, he again complained about being treated differently than other engineers by Richardson and complained that Richardson’s behavior was discriminatory. Bakhtiar requested a follow up meeting with Briscoe in December 2015, but no follow up meeting occurred. Between October 2015 and June 2, 2016, Bahktiar continued to work for Infineon without any discipline or performance improvement plan.

          On June 2, 2016, Bakhtiar was terminated from his position with Infineon. Infineon stated that the termination was a result of a "reduction in force" in order to "achieve cost savings." Bakhtiar alleges the company posted a job opportunity in the days following his termination for a position nearly identical to his terminated position. Infineon disputes that the posted job was "nearly identical" and alleges the position was posted prior to Bakhtiar’s termination.

          In connection with Infineon’s cost-cutting program, a panel of four managers, including Richardson, was appointed to review and rate the performance of all "indirect labor" (i.e., non-manufacturing) employees, including the process engineering group where Bakhtiar worked. Bakhtiar agreed in his deposition that the other three managers were "in a position to assess his performance," and had no reason to believe any of the other panelists were racist. Each of the four panelists rated all 161 "indirect labor" employees on a scale from one to five, with one being the highest score. Bakhtiar ...

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