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Apr 2017
07
April 07, 2017

EEOC’s New Q&A Guidelines Help Define National Origin Discrimination for Employers

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released new Q&A guidelines on national origin discrimination. They are helpful to employers seeking to avoid being included in the 10,000 national origin discrimination charges filed with the EEOC each year.  

The Q&A defines national origin discrimination as discriminating against an individual (or the individual’s ancestor) because he or she originated from a certain place or has the physical, cultural or language characteristics of a national origin (ethnic) group. For example, Title VII prohibits employers from refusing to hire or take other negative employment action against an individual because someone is Hispanic or Italian or Polish. Notably however, the EEOC limits an individual’s place of origin to a country, former country or a place that is not a country yet closely associated with an ethnic group (for example, Kurdistan). Accordingly, the definition of “national origin” requires an individual to trace his or her place of origin to a geographic region outside the United States to allege discrimination on the basis of national origin.  

What if an employer engages in U.S.-based subnational or regional discrimination? In other words, what if an employer discriminates against someone because he or she is from Northern California or rural Alabama? Each region of the United States has its own history, culture and even language differences. Studies have shown that Northerners have discriminated against both white and black Southerners by refusing them employment because of their “southern” attributes, such as their accents or perceived slower paces of life. A recent article in InsideHigherEd.com stated that discrimination against rural, southern students is “the last acceptable prejudice” in America’s colleges and universities. However, under the EEOC’s view, Title VII currently does not protect these U.S.-based regional differences. 

Accordingly, rejecting an applicant because he speaks with a southern drawl would not be considered national origin discrimination.

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