National origin discrimination on the job

Categories: blog

“No Irish Need Apply”

Toward the end of the 19th century in America, employers could blatantly advertise their personal prejudices.  Want ads were filled with terms such as “No Irish need apply,” a phrase so so common that it was shortened to N.I.N.A.  A popular song of the day recorded the desperate frustration Irish immigrants felt as they scanned the want ads looking for jobs.

“I’m a decent boy just landed
From the town of Ballyfad;
I want a situation, yes,
And want it very bad.
I have seen employment advertised,
“It’s just the thing,” says I,
“But the dirty help ad ended with
‘No Irish Need Apply.’ “

Today, even though workers are protected from national-origin discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, lawsuits alleging harassment based on national background are still common.  Two lawsuits that have been in the news recently are cases against Sierra Pacific Industries of California and Blue Ridge Resources of Texas. These two cases are representative of the most commonly harassed heritage groups in the U.S. today – Arab-Americans and Latin-Americans.

In the first case, the worker, Ahmed Elshenawy, complained that the forestry giant, Sierra Pacific, allowed co-workers to harass him because of his Egyptian background. When he complained, the company retaliated by disciplining him rather than his abusers.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought a suit in his behalf that was settled in July 2012.  The judge ordered the company to rework its anti-discrimination policy and pay Elshenawy $95,000 in damages.

The second case has an interesting twist because the accused abuser is of the same national heritage as his victims.  Three employees of the oil field service company, Blue Ridge Resources, claimed that their supervisor, who is also of Mexican origin, repeatedly called them wet-backs and refused to let them have water breaks, claiming that, “wet-backs don’t need water breaks.”  As in the Sierra Pacific case, these workers were threatened with retaliation if they complained.  The EEOC filed a suit in the workers’ behalf which was settled for $43,000.  In making his decision, the judge pointed out that national-origin harassment violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even when the harasser is of the same ethnic background as his victims.

The most important thing to remember is that you do not have to take it.  Even if your company threatens to fire you if you complain, you are protected by law.  If you have proof of discriminatory treatment, you have legal options that will give you an advantage over your tormenters.  There are certain steps you should take right away
    
First, start a paper trail.  Write down every incident that you feel is discriminatory. Be sure to record dates and names. Keep a record of your attempts to resolve the issue within your company.  Make copies of all the documents you submit and keep every reply you get.  Print out emails you send and receive on the subject.  Keep all documents at home or in another safe place away from work.
    
You should also talk to co-workers.  If you are being harassed because of your heritage, chances are that you are not the only one.  Others may have suffered similar incidents.  Don’t discuss just things like slurs or harassment; ask who has applied for promotions and been turned down.  If you find a pattern of company-wide discrimination, you may have a stronger case than you originally thought.
    
If in a union, then definitely discuss this with your Union Representative.  If you feel that the company is not willing to help you, or worse, is retaliating against you, go to your union if you have one.  A union can offer you good advice and possibly even legal representation.
    
File a complaint with the government.  Your state may have an equal opportunity agency; or you can take your case to the EEOC.  The EEOC will most likely talk to your company first and ask it to explain the actions you have documented.  They can force the company to turn over papers that they may have refused to show you.  If all else fails, the EEOC may file lawsuits in behalf of victims who have the records to validate their claims.
    
Ultimately you may need a lawyer to pursue legal action. If you believe that you may have been discriminated against based on your race, ethnicity or nation or origin then we encourage you to seek the counsel of Wilson McCoy, P.A. As a firm who specializes in on-the-job-discrimination cases we advise on your rights and options.