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Saima Ashraf-Hassan v. Embassy of France In the United States

July 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


Plaintiff Saima Ashraf-Hassan, a citizen of France who was born in Pakistan, was employed by Defendant French Embassy here in Washington from February 2002 through January 2007. During her employment, she was responsible for administrative tasks for several Embassy programs. In bringing this suit under Title VII, Ashraf-Hassan claims that she was both subjected to a hostile work environment by her supervisors and colleagues and ultimately terminated illegally on the basis of national origin, race, religion (Islam), retaliation, and pregnancy. Defendant has now moved to dismiss the suit under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Because the Court finds that her termination claims were not exhausted in a timely manner, it will grant Defendant's Motion as to those (Counts IV, V, VI & VII). Plaintiff's remaining claims (Counts I, II, III & VIII), however, which allege a hostile work environment, may proceed.


According to her Amended Complaint, which must be presumed true for purposes of this Motion, Plaintiff came to the United States in November 2001 to work as an unpaid intern at the French Embassy. Amended Compl., ¶¶ 13, 14. While interning, she learned of a paid position at the Embassy that would allow her remain in the United States beyond her internship. Id., ¶¶ 16-24. Plaintiff was ultimately hired for this position, and she began managing the internship-placement program, effective February 1, 2002. Id., ¶¶ 26-27. In this position, Ashraf-Hassan was supervised by Chantal Manes, head of the Cultural Service at the Embassy. Id., ¶ 46. When Manes left the Embassy in December 2005, Robby Judes, Joint Cultural Advisor, supervised Ashraf-Hassan's internship-program responsibilities. Id., ¶ 48.

In addition to managing the internship program, Ashraf-Hassan also helped to coordinate the Embassy's institutional partnership with the French-American Cultural Exchange (FACE) University Partnership Fund (UPF), a program between American and French universities. Id., ¶¶ 39, 45. The UPF was replaced by the Partnership University Fund (PUF) in 2007, though Ashraf-Hassan's duties remained the same. Id., ¶ 42. In these duties, Plaintiff was supervised by Dr. Christian Tual, who managed the day-to-day administration of both the UPF and PUF in Washington. Id., ¶ 43.

Ashraf-Hassan claims that upon arriving at the Embassy she was subjected to a hostile work environment, including comments by Manes and co-workers at the Embassy regarding her national origin and ethnicity, such as:

* references by Manes to terrorists as "[y]our people," id., ¶ 55;

* comments by Manes that she "[didn't] know why your people do things like this," in reference to terrorist attacks, id., ¶ 56;

* comments by Manes in reference to a police raid following September 11th attacks that "[t]he Pakistani did it again!" id., ¶ 57;

* a comment by a colleague that "[n]ow we hire terrorists," directed at Ashraf-Hassan, id., ¶ 58;

* instructions by Manes that Ashraf-Hassan was "not to wear the hijab or any jewelry identifying [her] religion," id., ¶ 59; and

* a comment by Manes that "people like [Plaintiff] should go back to where they came from."

Id., ¶ 91 (all internal quotation marks omitted). Further, upon discovering that Ashraf-Hassan was pregnant, Manes lectured her about condoms and birth control. Id., ¶ 63. A month later, Manes informed her that she would be terminated at the end of her probationary period. Id., ¶ 65. The Ambassador subsequently intervened, reprimanding Manes and returning Ashraf-Hassan to her position. Id., ¶¶ 71-74. Ashraf-Hassan claims that after Manes was reprimanded, she continued to exclude her from meetings and treated her differently from her colleagues. Id., ¶¶ 76-80.

In addition to the mistreatment from Manes and her colleagues, Ashraf-Hassan claims that she suffered similar abuse from another supervisor, Dr. Tual. See id., ¶¶ 92-115. Specifically, she claims Tual

* "made comments about how much he disliked Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani people," id., ¶ 93;

* "asked Ms. Ashraf-Hassan why she was not looking for a job at the Pakistani Embassy because she might be better there," id., ¶ 94;

* questioned Ashraf-Hassan's status "as a French national because she was a Pakistani and a Muslim and that it would be better for her to work at ...

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