Sovereign Immunity Applies to U.S. Firm Forced to Discriminate in Employment
Description Appeals court upheld dismissal of suit brought by an employee who claimed she suffered from sex discrimination. She was denied a promotion recommended by her superiors because the foreign government that hired her employer stated that a woman could not be in the position in question. The employer derived sovereign immunity from its employer.
Topic International Law
Key Words Sovereign Immunity; Employment Discrimination
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Vance provides security services. The company was hired by Saudi Arabis to help with security for Princess Anud, a wife a King Fahad, while she was undergoing medical treatment in California. Security was supervised by the Saudi military. Vance hired Butters as a part-time, at-will security agent in the team guarding the Saudi royal family. Vance recommended she serve a full rotation in the command post at the family's California residence. The Saudi officer in charge of security rejected that recommendation, saying it would violate Islamic law for a woman to be in a command position and that the Princess only wanted to speak to male officers when she called the command post. Butters quit and sued Vance for sex discrimination. The district court entered summary judgment for Vance. Butters appealed.
Decision Affirmed. A U.S. corporation following orders of the government of Saudi Arabia in refusing to allow a female employee to perform certain tasks was entitled to derivative immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Civil liability may not be imposed on the agent of a foreign government, as it would impede the foreign government's interest in protecting its leaders while they are in the U.S. The foreign government, not the U.S. employer, was responsible for the discrimination, so the employer is not liable.
Citation Butters v. Vance International, Inc., 2000 WL 1281188 (4th Cir., 2000)

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