EEOC Publishes Guidance to Reduce National Origin Discrimination

Examples of ‘promising practices’ can help employers minimize discriminatory treatment

By Alison E. Curwen Jan 5, 2017
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​The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released a new question-and-answer guide on national origin discrimination—a user-friendly document designed to help the public interpret the anti-discrimination law.

The guide defines what national origin discrimination is, describes how employers can avoid engaging in such discrimination and gives examples of "promising practices" to reduce the risk of violations.

The new document is part of the EEOC's recently updated enforcement guidelines on national origin discrimination. Those guidelines reflect the commission's interpretation of the law, taking into account recent court rulings and other legal, social and technological developments, said EEOC spokeswoman Christine Nazer.

National origin discrimination is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC defines such discrimination as "treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not)."

Fiona Ong, an attorney with Shawe Rosenthal LLP in Baltimore, said the updated guidelines can be especially helpful to employment attorneys and businesses at a time when U.S. political rhetoric has sometimes emboldened people to discriminate against co-workers from diverse backgrounds.

Ong added that businesses must make sure that they provide the guidelines to managers and employees, translate the guidance into the languages used by employees, and hold training to convey what's in the guidelines.

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The number of national origin discrimination charges increased from approximately 8,500 in 2000 to just over 10,000 in 2015 and include:

--A case filed by the EEOC on Nov. 15, 2016, in which the commission claimed that a "temporary staffing firm violated federal law by subjecting Latino workers to unequal working conditions and failing to provide accommodations to those with disabilities."

--A case that the EEOC settled in April 2016, in which the commission claimed that a food company "discriminated against three applicants and a class of African-American and non-Hispanic applicants by failing to hire them into entry-level jobs because of their race."

--A case that the EEOC settled in February 2016, in which the commission claimed that the manager of a Colorado condominium complex sexually harassed "Mexican female employees, including attempted rape." When workers "complained to management, they were met with anger and indif­ference," the EEOC wrote in a press release.

Nazer and Ong said national origin discrimination may be more widespread than the number of claims represents. Ong noted, for instance, that in certain cultures, such as Chinese culture, it is preferable to avoid speaking publicly about discrimination.

Of the national origin discrimination claims filed with the EEOC in fiscal 2015, the commission found "no reasonable cause" to pursue the complaint in about 69 percent of the cases. Of the remaining 31 percent, about half were closed because of administrative problems—such as difficulty finding or communicating with the claimant. About 15 percent of the claims were resolved by merit resolutions, which means the outcomes were favorable to the charging parties. Such outcomes include negotiated settlements, withdrawals with benefits, successful conciliations and unsuccessful conciliations.

Alison E. Curwen is a freelance writer based in Mercersburg, Pa.

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