Two employees making fun of female coworker

National Origin Discrimination

By Douglas Lipsky

Despite New York City’s diversity, national origin discrimination in the workplace is not uncommon. Some businesses treat employees and job applicants unfavorably because of their national origin, ethnicity, accent, ancestry, or perceived ethnic background. If you suspect an employer has treated you unfairly for being from a particular country or region, it takes an experienced employment lawyer to protect your rights. Let’s take a look at national origins discrimination and what you can do about it. 

National Origin Discrimination Is Illegal

Federal, state, and local laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL), and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit national origin discrimination in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, promotion, and employee benefits. Notably, harassment of an employee based on their national origin (e.g. offensive or derogatory remarks about an employee’s national origin) is considered a form of unlawful discrimination.

There are several forms of unlawful national origin discrimination:

  • Discrimination based on country or place of origin – discrimination based on the country/location the employee or their ancestors originated from, including areas not recognized as nations (e.g. refugees from a defunct government).
  • Employment discrimination against a national origin group  – discrimination against an ethnic group with a shared cultural heritage, ancestry, history, language, dialect, ideology, religion, style of dress, physical appearance, linguistic or cultural traits.
  • Employment discrimination based on perception – discrimination based on an employer’s perception that the employee is part of an ethnic group, regardless of whether they identify with that culture. 
  • Employment discrimination based on affiliation or association – discrimination against an employee for associating with a person of a particular national origin.

Examples of national origin discrimination include:

  • Rejecting otherwise qualified candidates who have foreign accents
  • Making offensive comments about an employee’s country of origin
  • Establishing English-only rules without a legitimate reason
  • Requiring only non-Caucasian applicants to submit work authorization documents

When Discrimination is Nonobvious

National origin discrimination is challenging to identify because businesses hold all the cards when making employment decisions and employers know how to disguise their discriminatory motives. At times, discrimination may be reflected in the employer’s policies. While they seemingly apply to all employees, they can discriminate against certain employees based on their national origin. This is referred to as “disparate impact” discrimination, which can be seen in English-only rules in the workplace. That type of policy is only permissible if it is necessary for safe, efficient business operations. In any event, a policy that is created solely to discriminate against employees from certain nations is illegal. 

Legal Remedies for National Origin Discrimination

If you suspect that an employer refused to hire you because of your national origin or you experienced harassment in the workplace because of your ethnic identity, you may have a valid employment discrimination claim. While no two cases are the same, you may be entitled to compensation that includes:

  • Lost wages and benefits
  • Compensatory damages for pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages to punish the offending employer’s conduct)
  • Attorneys’ fees

Let an experienced national origin discrimination attorney fight for your rights and be the strength in your corner.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.