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National Origin and Racial Discrimination at Work

Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms. One such type of discrimination is national origin and racial discrimination. It happens when a person is treated differently because of those qualities. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protections for such discrimination. Equal Employment Opportunity laws (EEO) prohibit specific types of job discrimination in certain workplaces.

Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee. An employer cannot discriminate because of race, color, or national origin. Federal employment laws may also cover employment agencies. This is the case if the agency regularly refers employees to employers.

This discrimination law also applies to a person treated poorly due to marriage or association. Title VII protects against discrimination due to a person's race, color, or national origin.

State laws also offer protection from discrimination in the workplace. For example, in New York, the local government offers protection against discrimination, including:

  • Race discrimination
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual harassment
  • Marital status

State and local laws address fair employment. The federal government also addresses employment discrimination.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee for protected reasons.

The law forbids discrimination in any aspect of employment.

Prohibited Discrimination Under Title VII

The law prohibits discriminatory employment practices in certain situations. This protection covers discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin

Protection related to the following types of employment decisions:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Promotions
  • Layoffs
  • Compensation
  • Benefits
  • Job assignments
  • Training

The law prohibits disparate treatment for discriminatory employment actions. Disparate treatment happens when an employer treats an employee or a potential employee differently because of that person's race, religion, color, sex, or national origin. The law also bans unintentional discrimination when it has a discriminatory effect.

Even neutral policies can have disparate impacts on protected minorities such as Native Americans or Latinos. For example, "no-beard" policies may disproportionately discriminate against African Americans. This racial group suffers from pseudofolliculitis barbae. It's a skin condition that causes severe shaving bumps, more than other racial groups.

A neutral policy may be illegal if:

  • It negatively affects people of a particular race, color, or national origin
  • It is not related to the job
  • It is unnecessary for the operation of a business

An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of race or color, can be illegal. It can be illegal if it negatively affects the employment of people of a particular race or color when it is unnecessary to operate the business.

Racial Discrimination at Work

Racial discrimination happens when an employer considers a job applicant or employee's race when making an adverse employment-related decision. The law bans specific practices.

Title VII bars the following types of color and racial discrimination at work.


The law forbids racial slurs, derogatory remarks, and the display of racially offensive symbols. Such behavior is not allowed when it creates a hostile or offensive work environment.

The law protects employees from harassment by supervisors, co-workers, clients, and customers. If a supervisor or manager carries out harassment, even one instance is enough for a hostile work environment claim.

Color Discrimination

Color refers to 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 operate a business.

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, requiring specific educational qualifications or skills may be illegal if they don't relate to the performance of the job or if they are 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 using the information created an unlawful basis for hiring.

Segregation of Employees

Isolating members of a certain race to a physical area or away from contact with customers is unlawful.

National Origin Discrimination at Work

National origin discrimination occurs in the workplace when an employer makes an employment decision based on a job applicant or 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. Hiring only U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents is unlawful unless required by law.
  • Language requirements: An employer may create an English-only rule if it is necessary for the function of a business and applied equally. But, when these rules apply to employees during breaks, they 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.

Complaint Process for Discrimination Claims in the Workplace

Most laws enforced by the EEOC, the federal government agency enforcing federal employment discrimination laws, require you to file a Charge of Discrimination.

When you believe you have been discriminated against at work because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or genetic information, you can file a charge with the EEOC.

In addition to adhering to guidelines under federal law, you must consider state law requirements. The time you have to file a discrimination claim depends on the employment law in your state. Some states have a much shorter time limit to file a claim, so contact a local employment discrimination attorney to ensure you file your claim in time.

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Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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