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What Does Discrimination Based on Race, Color, or National Origin Mean?

As previously discussed, even if you are an at-will employee, you cannot be fired for certain reasons including race, color, or national origin. Even if you weren’t fired, you cannot be discriminated against in other ways by your employer for race, color, or national origin.

What is discrimination?

  • Discrimination means treating an employee unfavorably in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, or any other term or condition of employment.

Is every kind of discrimination illegal?

  • It may be surprising, but not all discrimination is illegal. For example, it is not illegal to discriminate against hiring someone because they do not have the required educational credentials or years of experience in the field. It is also not illegal to layoff someone based strictly on lowest seniority.
  • However, it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on that person’s race, color, or national origin.
  • Beware that some employers will give a legal reason for discrimination to hide the true illegal one. This is known as a “pretext.”

What does discrimination based on race, color, or national origin include?

  • Race. This is discrimination against someone solely on the basis of race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, height, or certain facial features). This can include someone of the same or a different race than the person engaging in discriminatory conduct. It can also include discrimination based on the race, color, or national origin of an employee’s spouse, partner, or other close personal associate.
  • Color. This is discrimination against someone on the basis of skin complexion. It is like racial discrimination but occurs sometimes between people of the same race or ethnic origin who may have a different skin tone. Whether you consider this race or color, the main point is that it is illegal to discriminate based on either race or color.
  • National origin. This is discrimination against someone because of a particular country or part of the world that person is from, because of ethnicity or accent, or because the person appears to be of a certain ethnic background (even if not of that background).

Are there other illegal employment practices prohibited by discrimination based on race, color, or national origin?

  • Harassment. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the employee being fired or demoted).
    • Examples of harassment. Harassment includes behavior such as racial slurs, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race, color, ethnicity, accent, or country of origin, or the display of racially offensive symbols, such as a flag, sign, or noose.
    • Who is the harasser? The harasser can be the employee’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a contractor, client, or customer.
  • Employment Policies or Practices. An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of race, color, or national origin can be illegal if it has a negative impact on the employment of people of a particular race, color, or national origin and is not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business.
    • "No-beard" or “dress code” employment policy. If the policy applies to all workers without regard to race, color, or national origin, it may still be unlawful. If the policy is not related to the job and in effect disproportionately harms employment opportunities based on race, color, or national origin, the policy is unlawful.
    • English only. An employer can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively. An "English-only rule," which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer's business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.
  • Retaliation. It is illegal to treat someone unfavorably or subject that person to any adverse employment action, such as demotion or termination, because that person complained about one of the above forms of discrimination, or if that person participated in an investigation of discrimination or testified against the employer for discriminating against themselves or others.

Because you are legally protected from retaliation, you should not be afraid to complain or truthfully report workplace discrimination. If you believe that one of the above applies to you, or if you have any concerns about this topic, you should seek legal guidance.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

When it comes to looking for legal help with any type of illegal employment discrimination, Weiler Law PLLC is here to help. Our team of attorneys understands the complexities involved in these cases and is dedicated to providing the best possible representation. We can work closely with you throughout the process to ensure that your rights are protected.