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National Origin Discrimination

Experienced Federal Employment Attorneys

Title VII prohibits agencies from discriminating against federal employees based on national origin. This means that it is illegal for agencies to treat applicants or federal employees unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, e.g., Mexico or Asia, because of their ethnicity or have a certain accent, or because they are perceived or appear to be from a particular ethnic background even if they are not from that background, e.g., it is illegal to discriminate against an employee who is mistakenly believed to be from India A federal employee cannot be denied equal employment opportunities because of that employee’s country of birth, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics closely associate with an ethnic group.

Discrimination could also be in the form of a federal agency treating an employee less favorably because the employee’s spouse or someone the employee is associated with is from a certain country or part of the world. Association can include membership in specific ethnic promotion groups, attendance or participation in schools, churches, temples, or mosques generally associated with a national origin group.

Like with other protected classes, there can still be a claim of discrimination even if the victim and the responsible management official who is discriminating have the same national origin. For example, it is illegal for a manager of Japanese national origin to be tougher on an employee also of Japanese national origin as compared to non-Japanese employees.

National origin discrimination in any aspect of employment is prohibited. This includes hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and another other term or condition of employment.

Harassment Based on National Origin

The law, Title VII, prohibits harassing a person because of national origin. This can include offensive or derogatory remarks about a person's national origin, accent, or ethnicity. Although the law does not prohibit offhand comments or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (an adverse employment decision could be the victim being demoted or fired.)

The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer. If the harassment is committed by someone who does not have direct authority over the employee, then the agency may only be liable if the employee complained about the harassment and the agency failed to take prompt remedial action to make sure the harassment did not reoccur.

The law makes it illegal for an employer or other covered entity to use an employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of national origin, if it has a negative impact on people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business.

Language or Accents

An agency may not base an employment decision on an employee's foreign accent unless the accent seriously interferes with the employee's job performance.

An agency can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively. An "English-only rule", which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer's business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.

Are you facing national origin discrimination at work? The attorneys at Federal Practice Group can provide legal counsel. Contact us now.


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