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Hasan v. Foley & Lardner LLP

December 15, 2008; as amended January 21, 2009

ZAFAR HASAN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
FOLEY & LARDNER LLP, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 04 C 5690-James B. Zagel, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ripple, Circuit Judge

ARGUED SEPTEMBER 10, 2008

Before COFFEY, RIPPLE and MANION, Circuit Judges.

Zafar Hasan, a Muslim of Indian descent and a former associate at the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP ("Foley"), brought this action claiming that Foley had terminated his employment after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, because of his religion, race, national origin and color. The district court granted Foley's motion for summary judgment. Mr. Hasan now appeals. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

A.

In reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment, we must construe the facts in the light most favorable to Mr. Hasan. See Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008).

Foley invited Mr. Hasan to join the Business Law Department in its Chicago office in October 2000. R.75 at 1-2. At first, Foley was pleased with Mr. Hasan's performance.*fn1 In a June 2001 evaluation, department chair Edwin Mason and partner Robert Vechiola described Mr. Hasan's performance: "Zafar has a great attitude and is eager to learn. He has good business sense and a great deal of maturity for his age." R.93, Ex. I1 at 4. The partners also noted, though, that Mr. Hasan needed to pay more attention to detail, develop his substantive skills and submit more polished work to his supervisors. Id. Six months later, a group of four partners evaluated Mr. Hasan's work for the period between March 15 and September 15, 2001. R.93, Ex. E1 at 1-5. The partners praised Mr. Hasan as "a hard worker" with a "great attitude" and commented that he managed clients and co-workers exceptionally well. Id. at 4. Although the partners repeated their criticisms of Mr. Hasan's drafting skills, efficiency and attention to detail, all of the partners agreed that he was "on track for advancement" and generally exceeded or met the firm's expectations. Id. at 5. Mr. Hasan was assigned to work on a large transaction for Foley's client, GMAC, and maintained high billable hours through the late summer of 2001. R.72 at 12-13. As of September 30, 2001, Mr. Hasan had billed 2,467.5 hours, the highest in his practice group. R.77 at 4; R.93, Ex. I1 at 11-19. He also had received praise from both GMAC and his supervising partner for his work on the transaction.

R.93, Ex. E1 at 4; R.77 at 5.

B.

Mr. Hasan and Foley agree that matters changed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On the day of the attacks, another Foley attorney heard George Simon, a partner on the firm's Management and Compensation Committees, opine that "those people don't belong here . . . they should kick them all out." R.75 at 7. The other attorney understood Mr. Simon to be talking about Mus- lims. Mr. Hasan responded to the events of September 11 by publishing articles and appearing on television to publicize his view of Islam as a peaceful religion. R.77 at 3-4. According to Mr. Hasan, when he posted copies of some of his articles on his office door, Foley partner Doug Hagerman warned him to be "careful" and "not to upset any sacred cows." Id. at 4. Hagerman asked, "Are you sure you want to have those [articles] up here?" Id.

In late 2001, one of Mr. Hasan's supervising partners, Bryan Jung, received an e-mail from GMAC's in-house counsel complaining that Foley had overbilled the project Mr. Hasan had worked on and had provided insufficient and "sloppy" documents. R.93, Ex. A1 at 19-24, Ex. G1 at 1. After investigating the complaint, however, Jung concluded that the problems identified by the client might not have been anyone's fault but instead stemmed from communication gaps among the large number of people working on the project. Id., Ex. G1 at 1. At the project's conclusion, GMAC told Mr. Hasan that Foley had done a "great job." R.77 at 5.

After September 11, Mr. Hasan's billable hours began to drop precipitously, while the average hours of other associates in his department increased. R.77 at 4-5; R.93, Ex. I1 at 11-19. Mr. Hasan managed to find work with the firm's litigation group during December of that year, but, in 2002, he billed only 879 hours, the fewest hours billed by any associate in his department. R.77 at 4-5. Most of the department's associates were assigned to work on a second large project for GMAC, called "MINT." Id. at 5. Mr. Hasan was not asked to work on MINT, even though he had requested more work. Id. at 6. In fact, even when GMAC representatives asked Mr. Hasan to perform more work for them, Foley did not assign Mr. Hasan to the MINT project. Id. at 6. Foley maintains that, although the MINT project occupied many associates, the Business Law Department lacked work generally and, consequently, it assigned what little work there was to its best associates and that Mr. Hasan did not fall into that category. R.72 at 13.

Mr. Hasan's May 2002 evaluation was less positive than his previous evaluations. His supervising partners stated that Mr. Hasan's technical skills were behind his class level. R.93, Ex. A1 at 25. Partners also criticized Mr. Hasan's efficiency, observing that he billed more time than should have been necessary to complete projects. Id. Mr. Hasan's evaluators did praise his intelligence, confidence and advocacy skills, but they warned Mr. Hasan that he would be "outplaced" if his performance did not improve by September. Id. at 25-26. According to Mr. Hasan, Foley later revised the evaluation, adding that Mr. Hasan had failed to exercise tact with a client in December 2000, some eighteen months earlier. R.77 at ...


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