Articles Posted in Ethnicity / National Origin Discrimination

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Back in the 19th Century, an English children’s rhyme declared that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, But words shall never hurt me.” Today, we have a more nuanced and complete recognition of the power of words to inflict real damage, especially slurs directed at historically disadvantaged people. That includes the use of those epithets in the workplace. Even if the word isn’t used a lot, it may still be enough to “alter the terms and conditions” of your job. When that happens, you may have the proof you need to win an employment discrimination case in New Jersey.

The courts have already addressed the “N-word” and its potentially discriminatory impact on Black workers. Back in 2017, the federal Third Circuit court, whose appellate rulings impact federal cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, said that even just one use of that word by a supervisor, while obviously not pervasive discrimination, was enough to qualify as severe discrimination in violation of federal law.

While that slur is widely recognized as perhaps the vilest epithet, the New Jersey courts have addressed cases involving other words and other groups and whether isolated use of other racial/ethnic slurs can be severe enough to qualify as actionable discrimination. Recently, this state’s highest court decided that answer was “yes.”

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Immigrants – both those who are documented and those who aren’t — face potential discrimination in a variety of forms and fashions. Some types – like comments about how immigrants should “go back to where they came from” or are “taking our jobs” – are obvious. Others are more subtle, though just as potentially damaging… and possibly even more so. Regardless of whether the discrimination that harmed you was obvious discrimination or subtle discrimination, it still may have been actionable discrimination, and you should talk to a knowledgeable New Jersey workplace discrimination attorney about your options.

The job application process is one place where subtle and insidious forms of discrimination can occur. They are insidious because the immigrant applicant may not even know that the employer has engaged in illegal practices, even though that’s exactly what has occurred.

One example of that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, occurred right here in North Jersey. An IT staffing company based in Basking Ridge was caught by the federal government engaging in improper hiring practices.

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If you are familiar with commercial airplanes, then you probably know the name “McDonnell Douglas” from its many well-known jets, including the DC 10. For people, such as an experienced New Jersey employment attorney, who are knowledgeable about discrimination law, the name “McDonnell Douglas” is familiar for a different reason. That’s because, in a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case bearing the company’s name, the high court created an important framework that victims of workplace discrimination, including those in New Jersey, still use today in their lawsuits.

The “McDonnell Douglas framework,” as it is called, comes in three parts. The first hurdle involves you, as the worker who was harmed by discrimination, establishing a “prima facie case” of discrimination.

A prima facie case of discrimination involves showing that you were a member of a protected class (like age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.), that you were qualified for the job you held, and that you suffered an adverse employment action (such as demotion, termination, reduction in hours, etc.) because of your membership in that protected class.

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Too many people think that, because they have a strong knowledge of the facts of their discrimination case, and perhaps a certain degree of understanding of the law, they can handle their case without representation from a skilled New Jersey employment attorney. That’s almost always a mistake. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of legal or procedural traps that a skilled employment attorney avoids every day but that can readily ensnare you, as a layperson, if you try to “go it alone.”

A recent federal case is a regrettable example. The employee, K.K., was an Asian-American man of Korean origin who worked for a financial services firm. During his time there, he allegedly suffered many forms of harassment, including a coworker “trampling the floor” near him. K.K. complained to a manager, but to no avail.

The employer eventually fired K.K. in 2018. The terminated worker, who was in his late 50s by this time, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and, later, sued for age discrimination, national origin discrimination and race discrimination in federal court.

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Crises often bring out the best in people. Many recent COVID-19 (a/k/a novel coronavirus)-related stories have highlighted countless acts of selflessness to help people working in the healthcare industry, families with food insecurity, seniors and others. Crises also bring out the worst in people, including fear, anger, hate and discrimination. Just as the September 11th attacks brought about a wave of discrimination against people of the Islamic faith and people of Middle Eastern or Arabic heritage, COVID-19 also represents a regrettable opening for discrimination against people with health issues and people of East Asian ancestry. If you have been harmed by COVID-19-related discrimination or harassment at your job, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney for help.

To help minimize incidents of coronavirus-related discrimination, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights recently published a guidance document entitled “Civil Rights and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions.” That document, as it related to employment discrimination, focused primarily on two areas of potential harassment and/or discrimination: disability and race/ethnicity (or national origin.)

When it comes to discrimination or harassment based on disability or perceived disability, improper action related to COVID-19 might look different than other disability discrimination actions in the past, but the underlying concepts are the same. Just as your employer generally cannot fire you simply because your supervisor saw you take a hypertension drug and believes (without any supporting factual evidence) that the stress of the job is “too much” for you, your employer similarly cannot terminate your employment simply because, as the FAQ cited, “you coughed at work and they perceived you to have a disability related to COVID-19.”

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There are certain employment practices that are obviously discriminatory. An employer who openly refuses to hire any LGBT+ person, a supervisor who jokes about all Mexicans being lazy or an HR manager who opines that “pregnancy always makes a woman crazy” are all obvious things. A lot of instances of discrimination aren’t nearly this obvious. Something as seemingly benign (and non-discriminatory) as a letter from the federal government about a worker’s employment eligibility verification paperwork can be the trigger for that employer to engage in illegal practices. If your employer has taken adverse employment action against you (such as forcing you onto unpaid leave or firing you) because it received a “no match” letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), your employer may have violated the law. Contact a knowledgeable New Jersey employment attorney promptly to find out what you can do.

In March 2019, the federal government began sending “Employer Correction Request” notices, which are often more commonly known as “no match” letters, to employers. This March, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, Department of Labor and the Attorney General published a joint “Dear Employer” guidance letter to provide employers and employees with useful information and to help employers steer clear of actions that potentially violate New Jersey law.

On the federal employment eligibility verification form, also known as the I-9 form, is something that most all of us have filled out at some point when starting a new job. An employee discloses their name and Social Security number. “No match” letters, which the federal government stopped entirely in 2012 but restarted last year, are letters from the Social Security Administration that inform an employer that the name and the number contained on an employee’s I-9 form don’t match.

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Last month, the New York City Commission on Human Rights issued a new “legal enforcement guidance” document that potentially impacted hundreds of thousands of workers in that city. In the new document, the commission provided new details on forms of conduct that constitute impermissible discrimination and/or harassment.

Even though the city’s new guidance isn’t enforceable in New Jersey, and even though citizenship status isn’t a protected class under the Law Against Discrimination, that does not mean that undocumented workers who suffer harassment and/or discrimination on the job due to their immigration status are without recourse here. There are still other potential options, both under state law and federal law, so you should be sure to reach out to an experienced New Jersey employment attorney about your circumstance right away.

This new guidance didn’t expand the protections of the city’s anti-discrimination and harassment laws – those laws already barred discrimination and/or harassment based on immigration status and national origin. Rather, the new guidance clarified what may constitute immigration status or national original discrimination.

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Muslims in this country face many challenges, including at work. One hurdle that Muslims of Middle Eastern origin should not, but too often do, have to face is discrimination because of their religion and/or national origin. Too many face workplace jokes and taunts where they are labeled as close associates of terrorists or terrorists themselves just because of where they originate and what they believe.

If you are someone who has found yourself victimized by employment discrimination due to your religion (whether it’s Islam or some other faith) or due to your national origin, then you may be entitled to sue and to recover compensation under the Law Against Discrimination. To ensure you’re pursuing your case in the most effective way possible, be sure you have representation from an experienced New Jersey employment attorney.

One New Jersey worker who allegedly experienced this kind of discrimination was A.M., a cook who worked at a country club a half-hour west of Newark. A.M. was Egyptian and a Muslim.

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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.

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The New Jersey Herald reported on a recent federal case from Louisiana declared that discrimination based upon an employment candidate’s Jewish heritage could constitute racial discrimination in violation of federal law. The employee’s attorney declared the ruling to be “precedent-setting.” While this recent case does not have precedential impact in New Jersey, it is a useful opportunity to analyze the rights and protections available to New Jersey employees who find themselves in this type of situation. If you have been the victim of discrimination because of your heritage or someone’s perception about your heritage, you may have a claim in New Jersey. Talk an experienced New Jersey discrimination attorney to find out more about your situation.

In the recent federal case, an alumnus of a Baptist college in Louisiana applied for a coaching position. The college president allegedly refused to hire the man because of his “Jewish blood.” (The candidate’s mother was Jewish.) The case was not one of religious discrimination, as the candidate was not a practitioner of the Jewish religion. The candidate was born into a Jewish family but converted to Christianity during his time at the school and on the football team, according to the Herald.

So, what might happen to a similar employment candidate in New Jersey? The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination bans employment discrimination based upon “race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil union status, domestic partnership status, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender, gender identity, disability, nationality, military status, or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait.” Within that heading of creed is protection against discrimination based upon your religious belief or practices.

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