An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) conference highlighting employment discrimination due to national origin was held in Washington, D.C. on November 13, 2013.
Discrimination on the basis of national origin is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This protection can be broadly applied not only to discrimination resulting merely from a persons place of birth or ancestry. Also applicable would be discrimination on the basis of cultural or linguistic characteristic, such as accents and clothing. The law thus protects, for example, an Indian man’s right to wear a turban, or a Czech’s heavy accent.
“The U.S. labor force is dynamic, diverse and multicultural,” says EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien. “In prohibiting discrimination based on national origin, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 seeks to ensure that all individuals have equal employment opportunities, and that employers – and the national economy as a whole – can take advantage of the full tange of the skills and talents they have to offer. This meeting provides the Commission with the opportunity to consider how we can best advance our mission to stop and remedy unlawful discrimination based on national origin.”
For certain immigrants who may complain of national origin discrimination there is not only the threat of retaliation for these complaints, but also use of the threat of deportation by employers. To an immigrant who may not be familiar with the American legal system this can be devastating. It is an unwarranted cruelty which some employers use to scare employees into keeping quiet about discrimination. This was brought up at the EEOC conference by President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Thomas Saenz.
The forms of national origin discrimination are varied, according to EEOC Commissioner Jenny R. Yang. At the conference she mentions several from experience, including harassment of farm workers, segregation of Vietnamese workers in lower-paying factory jobs, and not hiring qualified applicants from Iran because they did not conform to a retailer’s preferred image. “All of these should be tackled through coordinated enforcement, outreach, and training efforts.” said the Commissioner.
Over the years the population of working immigrant in the United States has been growing. In a change of the historical trend, these immigrants are not only concentrated in the southwest, West, and Upper East Coast. More and more immigrants are moving to smaller inland cities of the U.S. Some such cities have seen the immigrant population double and triple in the past twenty years.
The first step for an immigrant, or anyone else seeking to take action against an employer’s discriminatory acts, is to file a complaint with the EEOC. Instructions on how to do this can be found on the commissions website. An individual may do this on their own, or may hire an attorney to draft the complaint for them. It is recommended that individuals seek representation so that their interests are fully protected. Attorney’s will know what to say and what not to say, and will lend credibility and professionalism to a claim.
EEOC administrative actions can take about a year to yield results, but if the outcome is a dismissal the commission will give the claimant the right to sue in court. The EEOC also chooses to litigate a small number of cases themselves.
The Commission strives to help in other ways. They offer a Spanish-language version of their website and twitter feed, as well as fact sheets and other materials in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The Commission employs bi-lingual employees throughout the country, speaking languages most commonly found in the geographic area.
Employees have 180 days in which to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC if there is no state human rights agency. In states with their own human rights agencies employees have 300 days from the date of the discriminatory act if the employee has filed with the state agency.
Swartz Swidler is an employment discrimination law firm practicing in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We support and work with the EEOC every day to help clients from diverse backgrounds claim the rights they are owed under the law.