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California Race or National Origin Discrimination in the Workplace

Although we are now more than 50 years past the enactment of many of our initial civil rights laws, racial discrimination in the workplace still exists.

In 2015, 9,438 cases of national origin discrimination were filed with the EEOC, and 31,027 cases of race discrimination were filed. There are more charges of race discrimination (35 percent) filed with the EEOC than for any other type of workplace discrimination. Both federal law and California law prohibit employment discrimination against an employee based on race, color or national origin. (“Color” refers to the color of a person’s skin as opposed to race. Assumptions regarding a person’s race can be made based on the color of their skin).

Race encompasses classes of people who can be identified because of ethnic or ancestry characteristics. National origin basically covers where a person was born—the country he or she is from—although an employer who requires all employees to speak English at all times could be charged with national origin discrimination. Any type of discrimination based on a person’s language, accent or the manner in which they dress could potentially constitute a national origin discrimination claim.

Which Laws Prohibit Race and National Origin Discrimination?

Race and national origin discrimination are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Racial and national origin discrimination are prohibited based on:

  • Physical characteristics such as height, weight, the color of a person’s skin or hair, or the facial features associated with a particular race;
  • Racial or ethnic ancestry;
  • Perception that a worker is a member of a specific racial group;
  • Reverse race discrimination, such as discrimination against a Caucasian;
  • Cultural characteristics linked to race or ethnicity such as a person’s accent, manner of speech, name, cultural dress or grooming practices, and
  • Association with a person of a specific race, whether through marriage, a multi-racial child, or friendships of others of a certain race.

How Language Can Affect Race or National Origin Discrimination in the Workplace

Far too often workers or potential workers are discriminated against because of the way they speak. An employer is prohibited from basing an employment decision based on the accent of an employee unless that accent materially interferes with the employee’s job performance. A business might legitimately transfer an employee with a heavy accident to a position requiring less customer contact, only if customers had routinely complained about not being able to understand the employee.

If that same employee was transferred simply for having a heavy accent and not because it impaired his or her ability to perform job duties, it becomes discrimination. An employer may only implement a language fluency requirement if it is necessary for the effective performance of the specific position. If language fluency in a specific language is necessary for business reasons, the employer can implement that requirement, however if the language fluency is not necessary for business reasons, it is discrimination. An employer may insist on English-only rules in the workplace if necessary to the efficient, safe operation of the business.

Examples of National Origin Discrimination in the Workplace

While there are potentially as many examples of national origin discrimination in the workplace as there are workers, some examples of national origin discrimination include:

  • Any person who appears to be from the Middle East is not allowed to work in any position in an airline which is required to regularly deal with passengers;
  • A person who typically dresses in traditional Asian clothing is refused a promotion in a company which deals predominantly with Caucasian customers;
  • Only workers with Hispanic features and surnames are hired at a Mexican restaurant, or
  • A department store disciplines African American and Hispanic employees more often and more harshly than white employees.

Signs You May Have Been Discriminated Against Due to Race or National Origin

Race or national origin discrimination in the workplace can be overt or subtle. Some signs which may indicate you have been discriminated against because of your race or national origin include:

  • Your desk or workspace has been vandalized or damaged as a result of your race or national origin;
  • You have suffered verbal abuse and insults due to your race or national origin;
  • You have been denied a position you are well-qualified for due to your race or national origin;
  • You have received unfair discipline from your employer (as compared to other employees) because of your race or national origin;
  • You have suffered threats of violence or actual physical abuse because of your race or national origin;
  • You are consistently given an increased workload because of your race or national origin;
  • You have had your hours decreased or have been moved to the least desirable shift because of your race or national origin;
  • You have been denied benefits, a promotion or training because of your race or national origin, or
  • You have been excluded from meetings due to your race or national origin.

If you feel you have been a victim of race or national origin discrimination in the workplace, call an experienced California employment attorney as soon as possible.

It is important that you keep thorough records regarding every instance of discrimination you have experienced, and, if there were witnesses, obtain a statement to that effect when possible. Ensuring your rights are protected is extremely important in discrimination cases, and only a knowledgeable attorney can do so.

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