Is Robert Lee a victim of national origin discrimination?

No more AC for you!

Is it national origin discrimination for your employer to remove you from a work assignment because your name is the same as that of a long-deceased Anglo-American who is currently out of favor?

Robert Lee, sports announcer for ESPN, is Asian-American and has no known ties to Gen. Robert E. Lee of Virginia. But it was "mutually agreed" that sports announcer Lee would be removed from covering next weekend's football game between the University of Virginia (in Charlottesville) and William and Mary.

They removed him because his name was too much like the General's. He'll be covering Youngstown State versus Pitt instead.

ESPN denies that they took Mr. Lee off the UVA game because they believed his name would be offensive. Rather, they say,

there was a question as to whether — in these divisive times — Robert’s assignment might create a distraction, or even worse, expose him to social hectoring and trolling.

(Isn't this the same as saying they were afraid his name would be offensive?)

Not every ill-advised employment decision is illegal. I don't think that ESPN unlawfully discriminated against Mr. Lee because of his national origin -- or even the national origin that they were afraid he would be perceived to have.

But maybe it's time to amend the laws to include legal protections for people unlucky enough to have the same names as famous Confederates. You heard it here first.

Meanwhile, I hear that Mr. Lee thinking of changing his name to Ulysses Grant.

Image Credit: From flickr, Creative Commons license. Hotel Robert E. Lee (now an apartment complex but still named for Gen. Lee) in San Antonio, Texas, by debaird.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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