The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits discrimination based on national origin, nationality or ancestry. “The LAD prohibits intentional discrimination,” which “may take the form of differential treatment or statements and conduct that reflect discriminatory animus or bias,” according to the NJ Division on Civil Rights.
Federal law includes nationality and ancestry under the umbrella of national origin discrimination, as described on their website: “No one can be denied equal employment opportunity because of person’s birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics closely associated with an ethnic group.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines national origin discrimination as “treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).” Note that this definition bars discrimination based on perceived ethnicity.
Additionally, federal law bars discrimination based on an employee’s marriage to or “association with” someone of a certain national origin.
If your boss holds a particular animus toward the country you’re from, you might feel the effects of this in different ways.
Perhaps you are from a country, area of the US or a household where the most commonly spoken language is not English. If your boss institutes an English-only rule, it must meet the following criteria to be permissible under the law, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:
- It must be “needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and…
- It must be “put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons”
- Your employer also must tell you with “adequate notice” about the implementation of an English-only rule
If these criteria are unmet, you may have a claim against your employer for discrimination based on national origin, nationality or ancestry.
Discrimination based on accents is also prohibited, “unless effective spoken communication in English is required to perform job duties and the individual’s accent materially interferes with [his or] her ability to communicate in English,” the EEOC states.
When it comes to a workplace requiring fluency in English—or any other language—there is only one standard that must be met: it must be “required for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed,” according to federal law.
Overall, employers or other “covered entities” under the law cannot institute a policy that negatively impacts “people of a certain national origin and is not job-related or necessary to the operation of the business,” the EEOC says.
New Jersey law has a similar standard for policies that might discriminate against a certain protected group of people: “To establish the lawfulness of a policy or practice that has a demonstrated disparate impact, an employer would have to establish that the policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity, and that effective alternative practices are not available,” the Division on Civil Rights states.
Immigration Status Discrimination
Discrimination based on citizenship status is only allowed if being a US citizen is a legal requirement of the job. The Immigration and Nationality Act applies to employers with 4 or more employees, and makes it illegal for to discriminate “because of citizenship status against U.S. citizens and certain classes of foreign nationals authorized to work in the United States with respect to hiring, firing, and recruitment or referral for a fee,” according to federal law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—enforced by the EEO—does not expressly prohibit discrimination based on citizenship status, but if a policy that all employees must be US citizens has the “purpose or effect” of discriminating based on national origin, that is prohibited by the law.
Harassment based on national origin is illegal under federal and state law. Harassment occurs when you face derogatory or offensive conduct at work which results in “an adverse employment decision” against you or results in a “hostile or offensive work environment,” according to the EEOC.
State law, too, prohibits harassment based on national origin.
This could come in the form of remarks that are insulting or offensive toward your nationality, ethnic slurs, and more.
Pursuing a Claim
You can pursue a claim of discrimination based on national origin, nationality or ancestry either by contacting an attorney and filing a lawsuit or with a state agency—the Division on Civil Rights (DCR)—or with a federal agency—the EEOC. We have generally found that the most expeditious way to pursue these types of claims is to hire an experienced discrimination lawyer.