“Barbie and Ken” remark reveal toxic workplace


Management comments, actions lead to claim

The company had gone through some management changes and when Magali got a new boss — Bobbie. Magali and her coworkers were given a 30-day review. During that review, Magali's job performance was questioned. Also, during those 30 days Bobbie hired a headhunter to find a replacement for Magali. The headhunter was instructed to keep the inquiry "super confidential." A replacement was hired, and Magali was fired.

Magali felt that her firing had not, in fact, been motivated by her performance and she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging she was fired because of her national origin (Mexican) and because she had recently informed her employers that she was pregnant. The EEOC subsequently filed suit against the company.

The case revealed a highly toxic work environment. Some leaders expressed dismay at the fact that the office staff were "all Mexicans" and expressed a desire to "change the demographic[s]" of the staff. Testimony also called into question Bobbie's contention that Magali was fired entirely based on her poor job performance. When hired, Bobbie had been told by company leaders to begin "working toward" Magali's termination and to hire a "higher class of individual with the look of Ken and Barbie," which Bobbie understood as a hiring preference for those who are "petite, attractive, young[,] and Caucasian."

Evidence also suggested that Magali's pregnancy may have played a role in her firing. When one of the leaders discovered that she was expecting a child, he became frustrated and stated that he believed she would take her full 12 weeks of FMLA leave because "all Mexicans do that."

Bobbie would also later tell her superiors that Magali was pregnant and allegedly said that she was instructed to fire Magali because she "was Hispanic, and [because] she was expecting."

Interestingly, a lower court sided with the employer, but the appeals court reversed, given the facts of discrimination, including for pregnancy.

Key to remember: Discriminating based on national origin got this employer in trouble, and the fact that the employer indicated concern because the employee was pregnant and would likely take FMLA leave didn't help.

EEOC; Magali Villalobos v. Ryan's Pointe Houston, L.L.C.; Advantage Property Management, L.L.C., Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-20656, September 27, 2022.

This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.


The J. J. Keller LEAVE MANAGER service is your business resource for tracking employee leave and ensuring compliance with the latest Federal and State FMLA and leave requirements.