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Can an American Be the Victim of Impermissible National Origin Discrimination Under Federal Law?

There are certain situations where one may understand, just through common knowledge, that discrimination is illegal and can be the basis of a lawsuit. If you’re African-American and incur race-based bias, you can pursue a race discrimination lawsuit. If you’re of Mexican origin, your national origin can be the grounds for your discrimination lawsuit. However, what if you’re American and you suffered employment discrimination at hands of your non-American supervisors – can you undertake a national origin discrimination lawsuit? As one recent federal case highlights, the answer is, yes, you can. To understand more about the extent of your right to be free from national origin discrimination at work, whether under federal or New Jersey law, talk to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney about your situation.

In some ways, the facts of S.M.’s case follow a somewhat familiar pattern. The injured employee was a 44-year-old man hired as a director of facilities engineering for an internationally-based pharmaceutical firm’s Philadelphia-area office in 2001. By 2014, he had been promoted several times and had a new supervisor. His supervisor was a man of a different national origin than him.

The director’s 2014 annual review was the first time S.M. received a negative performance review. Every previous year, S.M. received only grades of “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations” and received recommended salary increases and bonuses. In June 2015, a team from the company’s home country met with S.M. and his U.S.-based team. Multiple employees on S.M.’s team complained about the culturally-based hostile environment and inappropriate questions about age. S.M. lodged a complaint with human resources. On February 29, 2016, the employer fired S.M.

The director subsequently sued, alleging both age discrimination and national-origin discrimination. What made S.M.’s case somewhat unique was that he was an American, and the alleged wrong-doers from the company in this case were Israeli.

Americans can be the victims of national origin employment discrimination

So, could this employee pursue this case? Yes, he could, and he likewise could have if he had been working in New Jersey rather than Pennsylvania. Although this case was litigated in federal court in Eastern Pennsylvania, that court follows the same U.S. Supreme Court and 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals precedents as the federal court in New Jersey does.

To succeed in your Title VII discrimination case alleging national-origin bias, you need four things: to show you are a member of a protected class, to show you were qualified to do your job, to show that you incurred an adverse employment action and to show that the action was the result of impermissible discrimination.

If you do those things, then you may win, even if your national-origin group was “American,” and not a minority. S.M. had evidence that allegedly showed that the Israeli supervisor viewed all Americans as intellectually weak and that he was dismissive of S.M.’s input because he was American and therefore “stupid.” The supervisor and his Israeli team also allegedly made other remarks denigrating Americans as narrow-minded and unable to grasp humor.

It also helps if you have evidence of disparate treatment. S.M., an American, allegedly had performance problems and was placed on a “performance improvement plan,” which is a type of adverse employment action. S.M.’s supervisor, an Israeli, also allegedly had performance problems but was not placed on a performance improvement plan.

All that evidence allowed the director to get his case before a jury. At the end of the trial, the director had secured a judgment in his favor and an award of damages in excess of $6 million, which shows that even if you’re not a member of a traditional minority group, do not make the mistake of thinking that you cannot pursue an employment discrimination case.

To learn more about your options if you’ve been harmed at work by illegal discrimination, reach out to the skilled New Jersey employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Our attorneys are here to help you pursue your case and get the fair recovery you deserve. Reach us online or at (609) 436-9087 today to set up a free and confidential consultation and to find out how we can help you.

More blog posts:

Your Rights in New Jersey If You Have Suffered Workplace Discrimination Based Upon Your Jewish Heritage or Faith (Actual or Perceived), New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, July 19, 2018

Citizenship Status and National Origin Discrimination in New Jersey, New Jersey Employment Lawyer Blog, Jan. 26, 2018

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