Legal Protection For Employees Subjected To National Origin Harassment & Retaliation For Complaining About National Origin Harassment
Under the Florida Civil Rights Act (“FCRA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), an individual is protected against discrimination with respect to his or her compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment on the basis of national origin. Because the term “national origin” is not defined in the FCRA or Title VII, uncertainty may sometimes exist as to what constitutes an individual’s national origin for purposes of discrimination protection. In Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing Company, Inc., 414 U.S. 86 (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court defined the term “national origin” as the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came.
Harassment of an employee because of his or her national origin which is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment is a form of prohibited national origin discrimination. Harassment of an employee on the basis of national origin generally occurs in two circumstances. First, an employee is harassed because of the country where he or she was born. For example, an employee is harassed because he or she was born in Cuba, Mexico, India, or Russia. Second, an employee is harassed because of the country where his or her ancestors came from. For example, an employee is harassed because his or her parents came from Cuba, Mexico, India, or Russia. A recent case filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Rhino Energy WV, LLC, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia involved a claim of national origin harassment under Title VII.
The EEOC filed the case on behalf of Michael Jagodzinski (“Jagodzinski”) against Rhino Energy WV, LLC (“Rhino”). The EEOC alleged that Rhino supervisory and non-supervisory employees harassed Jagodzinski because of his Polish ancestry. The alleged harassment of Jagodzinski because of his Polish national origin included derogatory ethnic slurs, such as calling him a stupid Polack and a dumb Polack, and degrading graffiti in the workplace, such as referring to him as a caveman and a Polack. The EEOC maintained that Rhino was liable for the national origin harassment because it failed to take effective remedial action to end the harassment after Jagodzinski complained about the behavior. The EEOC further contended that Rhino was liable for the national origin harassment because supervisory employees participated in the harassment. The EEOC also claimed that Rhino violated Title VII by retaliating against Jagodzinski for complaining about the national origin harassment by subjecting him to disciplinary action and terminating his employment.
On January 19, 2016, the EEOC and Rhino entered into a Consent Decree which settled the lawsuit. In the Consent Decree, Rhino agreed to pay Jagodzinski $62,500 to resolve the case. Rhino also agreed to provide training to all of its management and human resources personnel on federal law prohibitions against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Rhino was also required to provide the EEOC with written notification of all complaints and investigations of alleged national origin discrimination or retaliation, including a description of any action taken by Rhino in response to such complaints or investigations.
The Rhino case demonstrates that employees are protected by the FCRA and Title VII against national origin harassment in the workplace. The Rhino case also illuminates the type of behavior giving rise to a claim of national origin harassment in violation of the FCRA and Title VII law. The allegations of retaliation in Rhino further reflect that employees might be targeted for retaliation after complaining about national origin harassment. In Rhino, the EEOC alleged that Rhino retaliated against Jagodzinski by firing him based on a false accusation that he sexually harassed another male employee even though the alleged victim took Jagodzinski’s cell phone without permission, used it to take a photo of his own testicles, and bragged about the photo in the workplace for several days. As evidenced by the EEOC’s retaliation claim against Rhino, the FCRA and Title VII also protect employees against retaliation for complaining about national origin harassment.
We have extensive experience representing employees who have been the subjected to national origin discrimination or harassment in the workplace, including employees who have been retaliated against for complaining about national origin discrimination or harassment. If you have questions regarding discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in the workplace, please contact our office for a free consultation.