Hossein Zeinali, who is of Iranian descent, alleges that Raytheon violated the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) by terminating him on the basis of his race and national origin after he was denied a security clearance by the Department of Defense. The appellate court reversed a lower court decision that agreed with Raytheon’s argument that federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide discrimination cases involving security clearance decisions.
The 9th Circuit found that the courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate Zeinali’s discriminatory termination claim, as he does not dispute the merits of the executive branch’s decision to deny his security clearance application, but disputes the bona fides of Raytheon’s professed security clearance requirement and introduces evidence showing that Raytheon retained similarly situated non-Iranian engineers who lacked security clearances.
“Raytheon’s approach would essentially immunize government contractors from any liability in cases involving employees whose security clearances are revoked or denied,” the three-judge appellate panel wrote in its decision.
The court also found that in light of the fact that Raytheon retained multiple non-Iranian engineers after their security clearances were revoked, Zeinali has raised triable disputes regarding whether security clearances were a bona fide requirement for Raytheon engineers, and whether Raytheon’s central purported reason for terminating him (his lack of a security clearance) was pretextual.
The 9th Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings.The opinion in Zeinali v. Raytheon Company is here.