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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog

Can Unlawful National Origin Harassment Occur When The Harasser & Victim Are From The Same Country?

group of employees holdiing masks

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), it is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual because of such individual’s national origin.  In Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Company, Inc., 414 U.S. 86 (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court defined a national origin as the “country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came.”  Under well-established law, harassment relating to an individual’s national origin is a form of national origin discrimination prohibited by Title VII.

Having fought for the rights of victims of national origin discrimination for almost twenty years, our Alachua County, Florida employment discrimination attorneys have learned that employers frequently defend discrimination lawsuits by arguing that no discrimination occurred because the alleged discriminator and victim are of the same race or national origin.  In other words, employers contend that the victim’s discrimination lawsuit is meritless because the alleged discriminator cannot harbor discriminatory animus towards an employee of the same race or national origin.

As with many employer arguments in the employment discrimination context, the contention by employers that they are immune from liability for workplace discrimination when the alleged discriminator and victim are of the same race or national origin is contrary to long standing law.  As explained by the Supreme Court in Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482 (1977), “[b]ecause of the many facets of human motivation, it would be unwise to presume as a matter of law that human beings of one definable group will not discriminate against other members of their group.”  Thus, as observed by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Kadas v. MCI Systemhouse Corp., 255 F.3d 359 (7th Cir. 2001), court have “emphatic[ally]” rejected the idea that an individual is unlikely to discriminate against an employee of the same race or national origin.

Korean Employee Harassed By Korean Supervisor

The decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Kang v. U. Lim America, Inc., 296 F.3d 810 (9th Cir. 2002) is instructive in showing that an employee can be subjected to unlawful national origin harassment by another employee of the same national origin.  In that case, Cheol Kang (Kang), who is of Korean national origin, brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against his former employer, U. Lim America, Inc. (U. Lim), claiming that he was harassed based on his national origin.

Kang’s supervisor, Yoon, was also of Korean origin.  Kang alleged that Yoon subjected him and other Korean workers to verbal and physical abuse based on their national origin.  The verbal abuse consisted of Yoon screaming at Kang for up to three hours a day and calling him “stupid,” “cripple,” and “jerk.”  The physical abuse consisted of striking Kang in the head with a metal ruler on approximately twenty occasions, kicking him in the shins, pulling his ears, throwing objects at him, and forcing him to do jumping jacks.  When Kang began to cut back on the required overtime in order to spend time with his wife, Yoon fired him.

Kang claimed that Yoon discriminatorily abused him and other Korean workers because Yoon viewed their Korean national origin as superior.  Yoon told Kang that he had to work harder because he is Korean.  Yoon also told Kang that Mexicans and Americans, unlike Koreans, are not hard workers.   Kang further claimed that Yoon did not subject Mexican workers to the same verbal and physical abuse.  Consequently, Kang claimed that he and other Korean workers were subjected to verbal and physical abuse because they failed to conform to Yoon’s stereotypical notions that Koreans are superior.

Harassed Because of Stereotypical Notions Of Superiority

The trial court dismissed Kang’s national origin hostile work environment harassment claim.  In doing so, the trial court concluded that Kang produced no evidence establishing that Yoon’s verbal and physical abuse was based on Kang’s national origin.  In other words, the trial court found that Yoon did not harass Kang based on his national origin because Yoon is of the same national origin.  On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Kang’s national origin hostile work environment harassment claim.

The Ninth Circuit found that Kang had shown that “Yoon abused him because of Yoon’s stereotypical notions that Korean workers were better than the rest and Kang’s failure to live up to Yoon’s expectations.”  Although such a form of discrimination “is unusual,” the appellate court explained, Title VII nonetheless prohibits an employee from being harassed based on a failure to conform to stereotypical notions about how a member of a particular race or national origin is expected to behave.  In support of its conclusion that Kang was harassed because Yoon viewed their Korean national origin as superior, the court of appeals pointed to Yoon’s remark that Kang had to work harder because he is Korean and Yoon’s remark that Mexicans and Americans, unlike Koreans, are not hard workers.  Because Kang had produced sufficient evidence to establish that he was harassed based on his national origin, the Ninth Circuit concluded, Kang was entitled to bring his national origin hostile work environment harassment claim before a jury.

Free Consultation With Alachua County Discrimination Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, we have extensive experience representing employees who have been subjected to employment discrimination.  If you have been the victim of discrimination in the workplace or have questions about being harassed by an employee of the same race or national origin, please contact our office for a free consultation with out Alachua County, Florida employment discrimination attorneys.  Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis.  This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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