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Know the difference: Race discrimination isn’t the same as national-origin discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Not all discrimination cases are created equal. For example, race discrimination is prohibited by two laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a much older statute called Section 1981. Enacted following the Civil War, Section 1981 bans discrimination based on race in contracting.

It gives employees claiming race discrimination one more way to sue.

Recent case: Syed Shamim was a business analyst for Siemens. Shamim is of Pakistani national origin, a member of the Islamic faith and a U.S. citizen.

He claimed his supervisor often made fun of his accent and eventually fired him after he complained about race, national-origin and religious discrimination.

Shamim sued under Section 1981, alleging race discrimination. Siemens argued that, at most, Shamim was alleging national-origin discrimination, because he was from the country of Pakistan.

But the court viewed “race” more broadly, as the U.S. Supreme Court has done over the years. Just because, in this case, Shamim’s race and national origin overlapped did not mean he couldn’t allege Siemens discriminated against him on account of his Pakistani ethnicity rather than his Pakistani national origin. (Shamim v. Siemens, et al., No. 11-C-01479, ND IL, 2012)

Final note: Think of it this way. Had Shamim been born in Norway and alleged discrimination based on race, the distinction would have been clearer. He wouldn’t be alleging discrimination because he was from Norway, but because of his Pakistani ethnicity.

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