This Bad Boss Knew Nothing About Middle Easterners — Except That He Disliked Them
Shortly after Greg Washenko joined Fairview Property Investments as its chief financial officer, he had a “meet and greet” in his office with Monica Guessous, a bookkeeper who would serve as his direct report.
Upon learning that Ms. Guessous was born in Morocco, he informed her — based on an experience with some Iraqi customers — that “Middle Easterners … are a bunch of crooks [who] will stop at nothing to screw you.”
That insult set the tone for the next four years, according to court documents. Mr. Washenko bullied Ms. Guessous, a Muslim Arab American, and peppered her with ignorant and offensive remarks, often conflating her Moroccan heritage with other Middle Eastern identities.
At one point, irked that Ms. Guessous couldn’t act as translator for an Iranian restaurant employee — because she does not speak Farsi — Mr. Washenko blurted, “Shouldn’t there be some secret language that you all understand?”
At other times, Ms. Guessous testified, Mr. Washenko interrupted her workday to grill her about Islam, Palestinian suicide bombers, or an uprising in Egypt. When she mentioned the modernity of Dubai, he dismissed its residents as “just a bunch of camel people.”
Matters came to a head when Ms. Guessous returned from maternity leave to find that Mr. Washenko had withdrawn most of her work assignments. She confronted him about his ongoing behavior and asked to get her duties back — only to be fired soon afterward.
Greg Washenko is our new Bad Boss of the Month.
Ms. Guessous filed a federal lawsuit against Fairview, a property management company based in Falls Church, Va. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a jury should hear her claims of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment, citing evidence of “a history of discomfort, distrust, … disparaging treatment [and] discriminatory animus.”
Fairview quickly settled with Ms. Guessous on undisclosed terms.
Besides Mr. Washenko’s comments — which even a Fairview attorney agreed were inappropriate — the Fourth Circuit also cited evidence of “intimidating and intrusive” behavior that was designed to make Ms. Guessous feel untrusted.
As many as 40 times a day, for instance, Mr. Washenko would loom over Ms. Guessous at her desk, making her feel “cornered,” and ask what she was working on.
“He would stand with shoulders wide,” Ms. Guessous said at a deposition. “He made me feel like I was small, like I was nothing. I was this little camel-riding person that came here to the U.S. and that he was better than me.”
Just five minutes after she started one assignment, Mr. Washenko asked her whether it was done — and when she said it was not, he “looked at his watch, snapped his fingers, and said, ‘[T]his is not Moroccan time,'” according to the Fourth Circuit opinion.
Mr. Washenko didn’t monitor other Fairview employees so closely, and Ms. Guessous felt isolated, depressed, and anxious as a result. She testified that she often left the office to cry; she fretted about how workplace stress might affect her pregnancy.
Some of Mr. Washenko’s needling was intensely personal: For months he insisted on addressing Ms. Guessous as “Mounia,” her Moroccan name, for instance, despite her repeated requests to use her Americanized preference, “Monica.” A professed Christian, he denigrated her faith for not believing in “the same God.”
And when she wished him well on his birthday, which happens to fall on September 11, Mr. Washenko said he was reminded of “the terrorist attacks by the Muslims” and stalked off.
“I have never felt so inferior to anyone as I am feeling at this point,” she wrote in a personal e-mail at the time, noting that she was “sick and tired of [being] the 411 for issues relating to a Muslim terrorist.”
Ms. Guessous’ three-month maternity leave triggered a showdown. Mr. Washenko declined to give her any substantive work when she returned. She challenged him, citing his bias against her — and within minutes Fairview’s president had started soliciting a new job for “a wonderful girl that works for me that we simply do not have enough work for right now.”
Ms. Guessous was formally fired three months later, but Fairview admitted that the decision was made at roughly the time she confronted Mr. Washenko. “A reasonable jury could easily conclude” that the firing was retaliation, according to the Fourth Circuit.
Ms. Guessous’ husband was not working at the time, her new baby had special needs, and she subsequently went on welfare. Her family relationships suffered, and she sought therapy to “combat the years of mental torture and abuse” inflicted at Fairview.
Even as he was firing Ms. Guessous, however, Mr. Washenko seemed blind to the pain he was causing her. Indeed, according to her deposition, he halted her termination meeting to a receive a personal text — and then laughed aloud.
“My wife is out of town and I’m playing Mr. Mom today,” he explained, chuckling at the text. “My daughter just got her period at school.
The Employment Law Group® law firm was not involved in Guessous v. Fairview Property Investments, LLC. We select "Bad Boss" cases to illustrate the continuing relevance of employee protection laws for our newsletter's audience, which includes attorneys and former TELG clients.