Any kind of discrimination based on national origin is against the law, whether it is being carried out by a US company against someone of non-American descent or involves a foreign company's US operations preferring someone from its own country over an American citizen. Employment and hiring practices that favor employees or applicants of a particular nationality can also be considered discrimination based on national origin and are against the law.
Protections Against National Origin Discrimination
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in hiring, promotion, termination, pay, and other aspects of employment based on national origin, just as it does for race, sex, religion, and color. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), national origin discrimination is defined as treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because they are from a particular part of the world, of a specific ethnicity, have a certain accent, or appear to be of a particular ethnic background. It also encompasses unfavorable treatment of employees or applicants who are married to a person of a specific national origin.
All employees who work in the US, whether employed by an American or foreign company, are protected by these laws. So, if an American is working for a foreign company on US soil and is discriminated against because of their origin, the same protections apply. This is sometimes referred to as reverse discrimination against a US worker. The only exception is when a foreign company is covered by a treaty or international agreement that allows them to give preference to their own nationals for certain positions.
In 2020, the EEOC received almost 6,400 new charges of discrimination based on national origin and resolved over 6,900 (including cases filed in previous years). Of those resolved, 6.2% were settled. When the settlement included monetary compensation, companies accused of discriminating based on national origin paid out a total of $26.3 million in 2020.
Here are some examples of recent EEOC settlements involving claims of discrimination based on national origin:
- In June 2020, Albertson's agreed to pay $210,000 to settle a national origin discrimination lawsuit alleging the grocer allowed a manager in one of its La Mesa, California, stores to harass Hispanic employees by forbidding them to speak Spanish and requiring English only. In addition to the compensation, Albertson's agreed to review and revise its discrimination policies, and provide employee and manager training with an emphasis on language discrimination.
- City Sports, a chain of sports fashion stores in Chicago and surrounding areas, settled a race and national origin discrimination case in which it was accused of favoring Koreans over African Americans and Hispanics for management positions. In the November 2020 settlement, the retailer agreed to pay 19 current and former employees a total of $420,000, and hire a consultant to help implement anti-discrimination policies, procedures, and training.
- In April, Helados La Tapatia in Fresno, California, agreed to pay $200,000 as part of a national origin discrimination lawsuit. The ice cream company was accused of favoring Hispanic job applicants over black, white, and Asian applicants for entry-level, warehouse, and driver positions, as well as discouraging non-Hispanic applicants from applying. The company agreed to implement an open hiring and recruiting policy, among other settlement requirements.
- Last month, Wild Fork Foods in Miami, part of JBS USA, agreed to pay $130,000 to settle a claim of national origin and racial discrimination. Wild Forks was accused of violating federal law when a Hispanic female employee in the Miami corporate office was subjected to a hostile work environment based on both her race and national origin, subjected to retaliation for complaining, and ultimately forced out of her job. The decree also includes specialized training on national origin discrimination, among other requirements.
Justice Department Efforts
In addition to EEOC efforts to protect US workers against reverse discrimination by foreign corporations, the Justice Department Civil Rights Division's Immigration and Employee Rights Section has been pursuing cases against companies that discriminate against US workers in favor of temporary visa holders. In 2017, the department launched the Protecting US Workers initiative and has been pursuing employers it views as denying opportunities to US workers.
In December 2020, the department settled a case against Ikon Systems, a staffing and recruiting company based in Texas. The settlement resolved claims that Ikon was discriminating against US workers by posting job advertisements specifying a preference for applicants with temporary work visas. The claim included allegations that Ikon failed to consider a single US citizen for the openings.
At Barrett & Farahany, we are happy to answer any questions about discrimination based on national origin. We seek justice at work for all employees. If you or anyone you know is looking for answers, please contact us to speak to one of our employee rights attorneys.