National origin discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”).
Under both laws, no one can be denied equal employment opportunities because of his or her birthplace, ancestry, culture, language, or accent. Notably, Title VII and many other anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination against any employee employed in the United States, regardless of citizenship status.
Examples of national origin discrimination include:
A rule requiring employees to only speak English must be adopted for non-discriminatory reasons. For instance, it is permissible for an employer to require employees to speak English if it is a business necessity that is needed for an employer to operate safely or efficiently.
Similar to English-only rules, a fluency requirement is only legal if it is adopted for non-discriminatory reasons and is necessary in order for the job position to be performed effectively.
An employer cannot base an employment decision on an applicant or employee’s accent unless it materially interferes with his or her job performance.
Title VII also prohibits harassment on the basis of national origin. Such harassment may include offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent or ethnicity. In order to be actionable, the harassment must be so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or result in an adverse employment decision (such as being fired or demoted).
Title VII applies to employers (including employment agencies and unions) with 15 or more employees, and to federal, state, and local governments. Employees who are victims of national origin discrimination under Title VII may be entitled to recover compensatory and punitive damages as well as back pay, reinstatement or front pay, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Importantly, Title VII places caps on the sum of compensatory and punitive damages for which an employer may be liable. The caps are based on the size of the employer’s workforce:
15 - 100 employees
101 - 200 employees
201 - 500 employees
501 or more employees
Unlike Title VII, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) does not place caps on the amount of damages that are recoverable under the Act. With regard to national origin discrimination, the IHRA applies to employers with 15 or more employees in the state of Illinois, public contractors, and state governmental units.
If you believe that you have been the victim of national origin discrimination at work, you must file a Charge of Discrimination within time limits before filing a civil lawsuit. We encourage you to contact our Chicago workplace discrimination attorneys to set up a free consultation in time to learn about your rights and options under the law.
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