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National Origin Discrimination

Federal law prohibits many forms of discrimination based on someone’s nation of origin, culture, ethnicity, or perceived ethnicity -- collectively referred to as national origin discrimination. Recent immigrants, including those living in the United States on a valid green card or visa, are most affected by these laws. National origin discrimination is prohibited in employment, education, health care, and housing (in addition to other settings) and affects company policies regarding the languages that may be spoken on the job. This section covers the laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of national origin and the protections available to those who are denied rights.

National Origin Discrimination in Employment: Overview

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees on the basis of race, skin color, or national origin. These attributes often go hand-in-hand, since someone's race or skin color may suggest (at least to the offender) a nation of origin outside the United States. In addition, this section of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against people who -- either by marriage or some other association -- have a relationship with someone of a particular national origin, race, or skin color. Someone's national origin (either real or perceived) is discriminated against when an employer makes an employment-related decision based on their culture, accent, ethnicity, or actual country of origin.

In addition to intentional discrimination, the Act prohibits seemingly neutral policies that have a discriminatory effect on people of other national origins, especially if it is unrelated to the job and unnecessary for business operations.

Types of National Origin Discrimination in the Workplace

National origin discrimination can occur in any number of ways, but the most common types found in the workplace include the following:

  • Harassment - National origin harassment occurs when someone makes offensive and derogatory remarks about someone's ethnicity, accent, skin color, or actual nation of origin, thus creating a hostile work environment or resulting in an adverse employment decision.
  • Discrimination based on immigration status - Employers may not hire, fire, or make other employment decisions based on an employee or applicant's immigration status.
  • Language restrictions - The only legal reason for implementing an English-only rule in the workplace is business necessity; employers may not base decisions on an employee's accent or non-English language use unless it interferes with the job requirements.

Discrimination Against American Indians and Alaska Natives

American Indians and Alaska Natives identify with unique cultures that predate European colonization, and are thus protected by national origin anti-discrimination laws. In fact, many indigenous populations within the United States operate as separate nations, with their own sets of laws and customs. This creates some confusion, since they have a status that is very similar to dual citizenship. Generally, Native Americans and Native Alaskans are protected by the same anti-discrimination laws that protect other U.S. citizens and residents, including the right to not be discriminated against on the basis of their indigenous status (i.e., national origin).

Learn more about national origin discrimination and how to protect your rights by clicking on one of the links below.

Learn About National Origin Discrimination