The Perils of Employment Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation. National origin discrimination means treating someone less favorably because he or she comes from a particular place, because of his or her ethnicity or accent, or because he or she appears to have a particular ethnic background. Examples of employment decisions covered by Title VII include recruitment, hiring, promotion, transfer, wages and benefits, work assignments, leave, training, discipline, layoff, and discharge.

Harassing conduct, such as ethnic epithets or other offensive conduct toward an individual's nationality, violates Title VII when the conduct unreasonably interferes with the affected individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment, as indicated below:

Ramzi, an Arab-American, works for XYZ Company. His co-workers regularly call him names like "camel jockey" and "the ayatollah", and intentionally embarrass him in front of customers. Ramzi reports this conduct to higher management, but XYZ does not respond. The constant ridicule has made it difficult for Ramzi to do his job. The frequent, severe, and offensive conduct linked to Ramzi's national origin has created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.

Since the tragic events of September 11, 2002, the EEOC has received more than 800 charge filings alleging backlash discrimination by individuals who are Muslim, Arab, Afghani, Middle Eastern, or Sikh. The two most frequent issues alleged are wrongful discharge and harassment.

Employment discrimination can be very expensive. On March 19, 2003, the EEOC announced a $1.11 million settlement of an employment discrimination suit brought by four Pakistani-American workers who were repeatedly harassed due to their national origin and Muslim religion.

The most important step for an employer in preventing harassment is clearly communicating to employees that harassment based on national origin will not be tolerated and that employees who violate the prohibition against harassment will be disciplined. Other important steps include adopting effective and clearly communicated policies and procedures for addressing complaints of national origin harassment, and training managers on how to identify and respond effectively to harassment. By encouraging employees and managers to report harassing conduct at an early stage, employers generally will be able to prevent the conduct from escalating to the point at which it violates Title VII.

Should you have questions about employment discrimination issues, you may contact SESCO Management Consultants by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .