Discrimination in the Workplace – Protecting All National Origins

Discrimination based on an individual’s national origin is shockingly common in the 21st century workplace.  In a state as large and diverse as California, this kind of behavior, though loathsome as it is, becomes almost inevitable.  Whether it comes in the form of a transfer, a demotion, the routine assignment of undermining tasks, harassment, or even wrongful termination, employees must know that they have legal protections available to them.  With just a phone call, an experienced California employment attorney can ensure that both your rights and dignity are protected.

Both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of a “protected class.”  Under Title VII, it is “an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).  Under California’s FEHA, an employer may not “because of the race or national origin… of any person … discharge the person in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment.”  Cal. Gov’t Code §12940(a).  Title VII applies to those who employ at least 15 individuals in a year, while FEHA applies to California employers with at least 5 employees in a year.

“Because of the similarity between state and federal employment discrimination laws, California courts look to pertinent federal precedent when applying California antidiscrimination statutes.”  Guz v. Bechtel Nat’l, Inc., 24 Cal.4th 317, 354 (2000).

Initially, the United States Supreme Court defined the term “national origin” to mean the “country where a person was born, or… from which his or her ancestors came.”  Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., 414 U.S. 86, 88 (1973).  While Title VII’s protections are obviously extended to minorities in the United States, the term “national origin” quickly became understood to encompass more.  Today, “it is well-established that Title VII applies to any racial group, whether minority or majority.”  McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Trans. Co., 427 U.S. 273, 278-79 (1976); Aragon v. Republic Silver State Disposal, Inc., 292 F.3d 654, 659 (9th Cir. 2002).

Discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s national origin is illegal, regardless of that origin.  The class of protected individuals includes, but is not limited to people from Hispanic, African-American, Middle Eastern, Asian, Native American, and Caucasian backgrounds.  The law does not protect specific national origins, but instead forbids discrimination based on any such origin.

When hearing a claim of discrimination under Title VII, the court will apply the burden-shifting framework of McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973).  First, the plaintiff-employee must establish that (1) he/she is a member of a protected class; (2) he/she suffered an adverse employment action; (3) he/she was performing her job duties at a level that met his/her employer’s legitimate expectations at the time of the adverse employment action; and (4) the position remained open or was filled by similarly qualified applicants outside the protected class.

If the plaintiff-employee successfully satisfies these four requirements, he/she has established a prima facie case, and a presumption of discrimination is created.  The burden of articulating a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action then shifts to the defendant-employer.  If the employer provides an adequate, nondiscriminatory reason for the action, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff-employee to demonstrate that the reason provided by the employer was not legitimate, but instead a pretext for discrimination.  Pretext can be shown if other employees with similar qualifications are treated more favorably.  Godwin v. Hunt Wesson, Inc., 150 F.3d 1217, 1220 (9th Cir. 1998).

If you feel that you have been subjected to any potentially discriminatory actions at your workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, age, gender, or especially national origin, your prompt action is extremely important.  Please contact the employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free consultation.  There are experienced professionals waiting right now to evaluate your circumstances and legal options.