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National Origin and Racial Discrimination at Work

Discrimination based on race, color, or national origin occurs when a person is treated unfavorably or poorly because of their race, the color or complexion of their skin, or their national origin. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of their race, color, or national origin. Title VII also applies to a person treated poorly because of their relationship -- by marriage or by association with a person, organization, or group -- to a person of a certain race, color, or national origin.

The law prohibits discriminatory employment decisions based on race, color, or national origin when related to the following types of employment decisions: hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. The law forbids an employer from intentional discrimination and from discrimination based on a neutral policy with a discriminatory effect. A neutral policy may be illegal if:

  • It has a negative impact on people of a particular race, color, or national origin;
  • It is unrelated to the job; and
  • It is unnecessary for the operation of a business.

Racial Discrimination at Work

Racial discrimination at work occurs when an employer considers a job applicant or employee's race when making an adverse employment-related decision.

Title VII prohibits the following types of color and racial discrimination from occurring at work:

  • Harassment: The law forbids racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and the display of racially offensive symbols when the behavior is frequent and severe enough to create a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision against the victim. The law protects employees from harassment by supervisors, co-workers, and even clients and customers.
  • Color discrimination: Color refers to a person's skin pigmentation, complexion, or skin tone. The law prohibits discrimination based on the lightness or darkness of a person's color.
  • Discrimination based on race-related characteristics: Discrimination based on the physical characteristics of a particular race, such as hair texture, skin color, facial features and height, is unlawful unless shown that it is job related and necessary to carry out the operation of a business. Neutral policies sometimes have a discriminatory effect. For example, "no-beard" policies may disproportionately discriminate against African-American men who more often than men in other racial groups suffer from pseudofolliculitis barbae, a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps.
  • Discriminatory recruiting, hiring, and advancement: An employer must apply job requirements consistently and equally. If a requirement significantly excludes people of a certain race or color, it may be illegal to require certain educational requirements or certain skills if it is unrelated to the performance of the job or if it is unnecessary for the operation of the business.
  • Pre-employment questions about race: If an employer requested pre-employment information that disclosed race or had the tendency to disclose race and members of a particular race were excluded from hiring, it may be presumed that the use of the information created an unlawful basis for hiring.
  • Segregation of employees: It is unlawful to isolate members of a certain race to a physical area or away from contact with customers.

National Origin Discrimination at Work

National origin discrimination occurs in the workplace when an employer makes an employment-related decision based on a job applicant or an employee's country of origin, culture, accent, ethnicity or assumed ethnicity.

The law prohibits the following types of discrimination based on national origin:

  • Harassment: The law forbids offensive and derogatory remarks about a person's national origin, ethnicity, or accent when it is severe enough to create a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision against the victim. The law protects employees from harassment by supervisors, co-workers, clients, and customers.
  • Discrimination based on citizenship: The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 prohibits employers from hiring, firing, or recruiting based on a person's citizenship or immigration status. Unless required by law, it is unlawful to hire only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
  • Language requirements: An employer may create an English-only rule if it is necessary for the function of a business. If the rule applies to employees during breaks, however, it may be unlawful. An employer may not make employment decisions based on a person's accent unless it interferes with the function of a job.

A job applicant or employee may file a discrimination claim against an employer under state and federal law. A claimant has 300 days from the discriminatory act to file with a state agency or 180 days from the discriminatory act to file a federal claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Next Steps
Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney
to make sure your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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