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Articles Posted in National Origin Discrimination

Discrimination against Muslims, people with Arab heritage, and people perceived to belong to either or both of those groups has been an ongoing problem in New Jersey and around the country for a long time. This includes workplace discrimination and harassment because of a person’s religious beliefs or practices, or stereotypes about that person’s religion. New Jersey employment discrimination on the basis of religion violates both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). With regard to Muslim workers, this type of discrimination can, in some cases, overlap with discrimination based on national origin or race. A New Jersey woman brought attention to this issue earlier this year with allegations of discrimination and harassment because of her Muslim faith. This led to a commitment by the employer to change how it investigates such claims. Another case, which alleged race discrimination by the same employer, resulted in a lawsuit and settlement.

Title VII bars employment discrimination on the basis of five factors: race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. This includes a wide range of actions by managers, supervisors, co-workers, customers, and others. The NJLAD also prohibits discrimination based on these factors and includes many more protected categories. Employers may not take overtly discriminatory actions against someone because of a protected factor, such as refusing to hire job applicants who are or are perceived to be Muslim. These laws also address less obvious forms of discrimination, such as workplace harassment motivated by an employee’s religion, race, sex, or other protected characteristics.

The two cases mentioned above involve female former employees of a major Wall Street asset manager. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is a Black woman who worked there from 2014 to 2020. She alleged that despite putting forth a “commitment to racial equality and inclusion” after the social justice protests of 2020, the firm had “​​serious race and sex discrimination problems of its own making.” The company, she claimed, routinely promoted white employees over Black employees with more experience and qualifications. She filed suit against the company at the beginning of 2021, alleging that she was forced out of the firm in retaliation for expressing her concerns about race discrimination. The suit was settled in the summer of 2021.
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Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that resembles a trial in numerous ways, but unlike a trial, there is neither a judge nor a jury. A neutral arbitrator (or panel of arbitrators) with dispute resolution training makes the final decision about the case. Courts all over the country welcome ADR as a way of relieving overburdened dockets. Employers frequently require workers to sign arbitration agreements stating that they will arbitrate any dispute that arises related to the employment instead of going to court. The New Jersey Appellate Division recently ruled that a plaintiff alleging national origin discrimination must submit his case to arbitration because of this kind of agreement.

National origin discrimination violates both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), national origin discrimination includes discrimination because of:
– Actual national origin: A person, or their ancestors, came from a particular location; and
– Perceived national origin: The person has “physical, cultural, or linguistic characteristics” associated with people from that area.

The EEOC notes that the place of origin can be a country or former country, such as Mexico, Nigeria, or the Soviet Union. It could also be a region, such as Central America, Southeast Asia, or the Balkans. People from the United States may be subjected to national origin discrimination, too.
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Harassment in the workplace could violate state and federal antidiscrimination laws when it is based on a protected category, such as race, religion, national origin, or gender. In order to prevail on a New Jersey workplace harassment claim, a plaintiff must show that the behavior rose to such a level that it created a hostile work environment. Exactly when offensive behavior reaches this level depends on the circumstances of each case. In June 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a supervisor’s alleged use of a particular slur in the plaintiff’s presence on two occasions was enough to allow the case to go to trial.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of multiple factors, including race and national origin. A hostile work environment exists when harassment based on a protected category is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person in the same position as the plaintiff would find the situation hostile or abusive. This usually involves conduct that interferes with a person’s ability to do their job.

The law’s use of the term “severe or pervasive” indicates that offensive conduct does not have to be widespread. A single incident can support a hostile work environment claim if it is bad enough. In the case that was before the New Jersey Supreme Court earlier this year, the plaintiff alleged two specific incidents involving a supervisor.
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Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job seekers on the basis of a variety of factors. Race, sex, and religion might be the most well-known categories protected by federal employment antidiscrimination law, but they are not the only ones. In addition to those three, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also bars discrimination based on color and national origin. Other federal statutes address discrimination on the basis of age, disability, and genetic information. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 states that employers may not discriminate against employees and job applicants on the basis of national origin or citizenship status, provided that they are authorized to work in the U.S. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had settled immigration discrimination claims against two New Jersey employers. If you have concerns about discriminatory practices in the workplace, reach out to a New Jersey employment discrimination lawyer as soon as possible.

Immigration law in the U.S. is quite complicated. In overly-simplified terms, people present in the U.S. can be described as belonging to one of five groups:
1. U.S. citizens;
2. Lawful permanent residents;
3. Nonimmigrant visa holders with employment authorization;
4. Nonimmigrant visa holders without employment authorization; and
5. Undocumented immigrants.
People enrolled in programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) do not quite fit into these categories, since they may be authorized to work despite being considered undocumented. The key factor in the INA’s employment discrimination provisions is whether an individual can legally work in the U.S.

The INA states that employers with three or more employees may not discriminate on the basis of national origin or citizenship, with the exception that they may “prefer equally qualified citizens” over non-citizens. It is also unlawful for an employer to require “more or different documents” than those required to prove employment authorization under the INA, or to refuse to accept seemingly valid documents. Individuals may file a discrimination complaint with the DOJ. They may not, however, file a complaint of national origin discrimination with the DOJ if they have already filed a Title VII complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging national origin discrimination.
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A federal jury recently found in favor of a former employee claiming national origin and age discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and state law. Middlebrooks v. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., et al, No. 2:17-cv-00412, 2nd am. complaint (E.D. Pa., Apr. 25, 2017). The case is notable in part because the plaintiff alleged that the defendants, an Israeli pharmaceutical company and its American subsidiary, discriminated against him because of his “American origin.” Id. at 1. If you have questions of this nature, contact a New Jersey employment discrimination attorney.

In early 2018, the court allowed the plaintiff’s claims against the Israeli parent company to proceed under a theory of joint-employer liability. The case went to trial against both defendants in November 2018. The jury awarded the plaintiff over $6 million in damages.

Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin, among other factors, and retaliation for reporting alleged unlawful acts. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2(a)(1), 2000e-3(a). The ADEA prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against individuals who are at least forty years old. 29 U.S.C. §§ 623(a)(1), 631(a). Unlawful discrimination may include harassment on the basis of a protected category, particularly when it creates a hostile work environment that prevents an individual from performing their job duties effectively.

A New Jersey teacher’s lawsuit for alleged national origin discrimination took an unusual turn in a recent court hearing, according to media reports. The plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to disparate treatment and retaliation because of her Palestinian heritage. Hashem v. Hunterdon Cty., et al., No. 3:15-cv-08585, 2d am. complaint (D.N.J., Oct. 19, 2016). During a hearing in early 2017, the defendants reportedly claimed that the case lacks merit because Palestine is not a “nation,” and therefore the plaintiff cannot claim “Palestinian” or “Palestinian-American” as a national origin. While this does not appear to be a prominent element of the defendants’ legal arguments, it captured media attention, and it raises important questions about how U.S. and New Jersey employment laws define “national origin.”

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) both expressly identify national origin as a protected category for discrimination claims. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). The term “nation” can have multiple meanings, depending on the context. It can refer to a sovereign country, such as the United States, Canada, or Mexico. It can also refer to a group of people with a shared heritage, language, or culture who do not have their own distinct country, like the Indian tribes of the United States, the First Nations of Canada, and trans-national regions like Kurdistan. Palestine, with its limited international recognition and “non-member observer” status at the United Nations, would seem to fit the second definition.

Since “countries” can come into being and cease to exist, multiple courts have held that “national origin” is not limited to countries in existence at the time of a discrimination claim. In Pejic v. Hughes Helicopters, a court held that Serbians were a protected class at a time when Serbia was part of Yugoslavia. 840 F. 2d 667, 673 (9th Cir. 1988). Serbia had been independent in the early 20th century and would become independent again in the 1990s. The Pejic court cited a district court decision finding that Louisiana Acadian—a/k/a Cajun—is a national origin under Title VII. Roach v. Dresser Ind. Valve & Instrument Division, 494 F. Supp. 215, 218 (W.D. La. 1980).

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of five distinct factors:  sex, religion, race, color, and national origin. The “national origin” category can apply to individuals who are not originally from the United States and also to people who are perceived to have a particular national origin. Title VII enforcement is the responsibility of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In late 2016, the EEOC issued new guidelines for enforcement of Title VII’s national origin discrimination provisions. These guidelines help the agency identify its priorities and provide examples of situations that constitute unlawful employment practices.

National origin discrimination under Title VII should not be confused with discrimination on the basis of citizenship or immigration status, also known as “alienage” discrimination. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 states that employers cannot discriminate against workers because of alienage, provided that the employees in question have work authorization issued by the federal government. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that discrimination based solely on alienage is not actionable under Title VII. Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. Co., Inc., 414 U.S. 86 (1973); see also Cortezano v. Salin Bank & Trust Co., 680 F.3d 936 (7th Cir. 2012). It is possible for a case to involve violations of both statutes, but the responsibility for enforcing these laws is placed in different agencies. An office within the Department of Justice enforces these provisions of IRCA.

The EEOC’s definition of national origin discrimination includes adverse employment decisions based on a person’s place of origin, or that of the person’s ancestors, or because the person has “physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.” 29 C.F.R. § 1606.1. This applies to currently existing countries, such as Canada, Mexico, or China, or countries that formerly existed, like Yugoslavia. It can also apply to regions that have a distinct identity but are not “countries” in the traditional sense—the EEOC gives the examples of Kurdistan and Acadia.

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The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) protects workers in this state from a wide range of unlawful employment practices. In order to assert their rights and claim damages, individuals must follow procedures outlined in the LAD, as well as case law interpreting the statute. This includes a two-year statute of limitations for filing suit. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently ruled that an employment contract may not limit the protection offered by the LAD by reducing this time period from two years to six months. Rodriguez v. Raymours Furniture Co., No. A-27 Sept. Term 2014, 074603, slip op. (N.J., Jun. 15, 2016). The court held that any such restriction “defeats the public policy goal” of the LAD. Id. at 4.

The LAD prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of various protected categories, including race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. N.J. Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12. It also prohibits retaliation against an employee for asserting their rights, such as by making an internal complaint to a human resources official or an external complaint to state or federal officials.

An individual may file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, or they may file suit in Superior Court against an employer for alleged violations of the LAD. The statute does not specify a time frame during which a complainant must file suit, but the state Supreme Court has determined that the applicable statute of limitations is two years. Montells v. Haynes, 627 A.2d 654, 133 N.J. 282 (1993).

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People who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents, and who lack official authorization to be in the U.S., are often referred to as undocumented immigrants—as well as a variety of less polite terms. Although undocumented immigrants are not officially allowed to live or work in the U.S., they may still be able to avail themselves of the protections of certain federal, state, and local laws. New Jersey courts have held that undocumented immigrants have standing to sue an employer under some laws, but not others. A recent federal appellate court ruling could affect these precedents. A court ruled that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the authority to subpoena employment records in connection with an undocumented immigrant’s discrimination complaint under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. EEOC v. Maritime Autowash, Inc., No. 15-1947, slip op. (4th Cir., Apr. 25, 2016).

The Constitution gives the federal government exclusive authority over immigration law and policy, including official determinations of an immigrant’s status and work authorization for immigrants. Employers are prohibited from recruiting, hiring, or employing anyone who lacks work authorization. 8 U.S.C. § 1324a. They must verify every employee’s work eligibility by collecting documentary proof that they are a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or an authorized visa holder.

Federal immigration law includes employment discrimination provisions, but they specifically exclude people who lack work authorization. 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(3). In determining whether a particular employment statute applies to undocumented immigrants, courts often look at whether the statute expressly limits its coverage to individuals with work authorization, or otherwise excludes undocumented immigrants.

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Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not the only federal statute that protects employees from discrimination in the workplace. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which was first enacted in 1952, prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of “national origin” and “citizenship status.” 8 U.S.C. § 1324b. Those two terms have specific meanings in this context. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces these provisions through its Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC), and the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) adjudicates claims. In late 2015, the OSC issued an opinion letter addressing questions about the extent of the INA’s anti-discrimination protections.

The INA prohibits discrimination in hiring, recruitment, and firing of individuals based on their national origin. It also prohibits discrimination in these areas on the basis of citizenship status, but only for “protected individuals,” whom it defines to include U.S. citizens, individuals who have recently attained lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a “green card”), and people who have been granted official status as refugees or asylees. 8 U.S.C. § 1324b(a)(3). These provisions are much narrower in scope than those of Title VII.

The INA states that its prohibition against national origin discrimination does not apply if the alleged discriminatory act violates Title VII’s provisions on national origin, meaning there is not intended to be any overlap between the INA and Title VII. Id. at § 1324b(a)(2)(B). The prohibition on discrimination based on citizenship only applies to “protected individuals,” as defined above, and it does not apply if an employer prefers to employ a U.S. citizen or national over an equally qualified non-citizen. Id. at 1324b(a)(4).

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