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Defining national origin discrimination

If you work for an employer with more than 15 employees, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination related to your birthplace, culture, linguistic characteristics or accent. Smaller employers with between 4 and 14 employees cannot discriminate on basis of national origin under the Immigration and Naturalization Act.

Unlawful harassment is something that a reasonable person finds intimidating, hostile or abusive.

When taunts lead to a hostile work environment or disparate employment practices seem linked to your national origin, accent or language proficiency, share your concerns with an attorney who can help you fight the discrimination. In this post, we will share a number of examples of what this looks like.

From ethnic slurs to language proficiency exams

Here is a blatant example: A supervisor frequently used racial epithets to single out one employee because her family is from Iran. He even goes so far as to post a fake sign on a billboard insinuating she cannot be trusted, because she is a terrorist.

Alleged jokes, ethnic slurs, derogatory comments or mocking/ridicule of an accent or minor grammar mistakes could become an issue. This is especially true when reported to a supervisor, but no investigation or change occurs.

In another case, after a change in management employees had to pass a new written English proficiency test. Several workers who were born in other countries did not pass the exam. The company fired them even though one had been working for the company as a personal care assistant (PCA) for nine years. This exam violated Title VII, which prohibits intentional discrimination as well as employment criteria that can screen out certain candidates able to complete a job. 

Employees and applicants

Title VII not only protects employees from national origin discrimination, but job applicants too. Less favorable treatment based on the belief you are Hispanic or Latino background, can rise to the level of national origin discrimination even if a supervisor is mistaken. Equally, an employer cannot penalize you because you marry someone from a certain national origin.

Fears of retaliation or job loss are common and few people know how to get help. To address this issue, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division formed a National Origin Working Group with the mission to educate citizens and immigrants about their legal rights.

Harassment is not something you need to tolerate. As an employee or job applicant, you have rights. Take action to protect them especially when you generally enjoy your work or fear discriminatory practices are stalling your career advancement.

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