National Origin Discrimination

Workplace discrimination due to national origin is against the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as certain state and local laws, make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of his or her national origin.

These laws protect employees from being treated less favorably, receiving fewer job or promotional opportunities, termination and more—including allowing an employee to be subjected to severe or pervasive harassment—based on national origin.  42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).

What Is National Origin?

“National origin” includes an individual’s

  • Nationality
  • Ancestry
  • Culture
  • Linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group

29 C.F.R. § 1606.1.  National origin discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee differently because of the employee’s actual or perceived national origin.

Which employers are covered?

Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, including private employers, state and local government employers. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(b). It also applies to labor organizations and employment agencies, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(b)-(d), and to the federal government, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-16, although there are different procedures for a federal employee to pursue a discrimination claim. Even if your employer employs fewer than 15 employees, it may be considered a covered employer under Title VII if it has acted jointly with a parent or subsidiary corporation, and together the employees number more than 15; to determine whether the companies have acted jointly, a court would focus on factors such as the degree of interrelationship, degree of common ownership, control, and management, and degree of centralization of personnel functions. See, e.g., Nesbit v. Gears United, Inc., 347 F.3d 72, 84 (3d Cir. 2003) (describing factors).

What remedies are available?

If a court finds you have been discriminated or retaliated against in violation of Title VII, you may be entitled to remedies including:

  • Reinstatement, compelled hiring, or compelled promotion
  • Back pay
  • Front pay
  • Retroactive seniority and benefits
  • Compensatory and punitive damages (punitive damages not available against government employers)
  • Attorneys’ fees

How do I vindicate my rights?

a.Non-Federal Employees

You must file a charge with the EEOC in order to seek a legal remedy for national origin discrimination or retaliation that violated Title VII. You must file your charge within 180 days from the date of the alleged violation in order to protect your ability to vindicate your rights under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). If you live in a state that has a state law prohibiting national origin discrimination, however, this 180-day filing deadline is extended to 300 days or 30 days after you have received notice of termination of state proceedings if that date is earlier, because you are required to file a charge with the appropriate agency in your state. Id.

The EEOC or your state or local agency will investigate your charge of discrimination, and if it determines your charge has merit, it will attempt to foster conciliation between you and the employer. However, most EEOC field offices do not have the capacity to act on most complaints in a timely manner. Regardless of the EEOC’s determination, you may bring a civil action in court after 90 days have passed since you filed your charge by requesting a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC.  See 29 C.F.R. § 1601.28(e).

b.Federal Employees

If you are a federal employee, you must first initiate a complaint by contacting your employing agency’s EEO counselor within 45 days of the alleged violation. If the complaint the complaint cannot be resolved informally, you must file a formal written complaint with the agency that discriminated against you within 15 days of the notice of the EEO counselor’s failure to resolve the matter. 29 C.F.R. §§ 1614.105(a)(1),  1614.106(b). The agency investigation must be completed within 180 days of the date the complaint or its last amendment was filed, or within 360 days of the date the original complaint was filed, whichever is earlier. 29 C.F.R. §1614.108. A court action must be filed within 90 days of receipt of notice of final action on the formal written complaint. 42 U.S.C. §2000e-16(c).

State And Local Laws

Many states and localities have also passed laws prohibiting the unfavorable treatment of an employee because of his or her national origin. These statutes typically mirror Title VII. However, the specifics vary state to state, and often, the language of the local laws may be broader than Title VII. Accordingly, plaintiffs may be able to pursue claims for damages and other relief under these statutes in addition to those provided by Title VII.  For example, the D.C. anti-discrimination law does not include a cap on damages or a requirement that the employee first file an administrative complaint. Similarly, several counties in Maryland have anti-discrimination statutes that apply to all employers in the county, regardless of size.

If you are experiencing – or have already experienced – discrimination based on your national origin that you are thinking about reporting, or if you have already reported discrimination and are facing retaliation, contact the experienced lawyers at Katz, Marshall & Banks, LLP for an evaluation of your case with no further obligation.