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National Origin Discrimination

January 29, 2014

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) (42 U.S.C. § 2000e(2)(a)(1)) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”), a state statute, it is unlawful to discriminate against or harass anyone in the workplace on the basis of national origin.  National origin discrimination entails treating employees or job applicants unfavorably because they are from, or appear to be from, a particular country/part of the world, because they have a particular accent, or because they are of, or appear to be of, a particular ethnicity. It also is discriminatory to treat an individual differently because he or she is married to, or associated with, an individual of a certain national origin or because he or she is involved in a particular ethnic group or organization. National origin discrimination can occur even if both parties involved are of the same national origin.

Additionally, the Immigration Control and Reform Act of 1986 (“IRCA”) (8 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq.) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against employees and job applicants based upon an individual’s citizenship or immigration status. IRCA’s non-discrimination policies are enforced by the Department of Justice.

Employers are not permitted to make firing, layoff, training, pay, demotion, promotion, or other employment decisions based upon an employee’s or an applicant’s national origin. It also is illegal to harass an individual on the basis of national origin.  Harassment may include, for example, slurs based on national origin, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, or other depictions or actions that would create a hostile work environment based on an individual’s national origin. Generally, an employer may be liable for the discriminatory conduct of supervisors, lower-level employees, and even non-employees under the employer’s control.

National origin discrimination may potentially occur in situations where employers impose “English-only” rules, or require accent-free English, or require English language proficiency beyond that which is necessary to perform the job effectively.

Protections against national origin discrimination under Title VII cover employers with 15 or more employees and protections under the PHRA cover employers with 4 or more employees. A charge, or complaint, alleging national origin discrimination must be filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) (How to File an EEOC Charge) or the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (“PHRC”) (How to File a PHRC Charge).   The PHRC requires that a charge be filed within 180 days of the alleged unlawful practice, while the EEOC’s deadline is 300 days.  The EEOC or PHRC will investigate the charge of discrimination and determine whether there is probable cause to believe that the alleged discrimination occurred. Employees or job applicants who prove successfully that an adverse employment action was taken against them based on their national origin may obtain remedies including compensatory and punitive damages.

It is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee or applicant who has filed a charge of discrimination, complained about discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination proceeding.

Employees and job applicants who work for, or apply for jobs with, employers in the City of Pittsburgh are afforded additional protections against national origin discrimination by the City of Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations (“CHR”). Employees and job applicants who work for, or apply for jobs with, employers in Allegheny County are afforded additional protections against national origin discrimination by the Human Relations Commission Code of Ordinance.

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