You know it’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on his or her national origin. You may not know that it's also illegal to discriminate against someone who simply has characteristics that reflect a particular heritage, whether or not he or she claims a particular heritage.
Recent case: Francisco Salas worked as a probation officer for almost a decade with no discipline problems. Salas identifies himself as Hispanic. He claimed he was fired after he agreed to testify before the EEOC in a co-worker’s race-discrimination case. Salas’ employer said it fired him for failing to supervise a parolee.
Salas saw it differently, and filed his own EEOC complaint and a federal lawsuit alleging national-origin discrimination. The employer argued that Salas never said what country or area he or his ancestors were from, so he couldn’t claim national-origin discrimination.
But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The court said national-origin discrimination includes denial of employment opportunities “because an individual has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group”—not just because of an employee’s or ancestors’ actual place of origin.
In other words, one does not need to actually be Hispanic to be protected; seeming to be Hispanic (or black or Asian, etc.) is enough. (Salas v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, et al., No. 06-2483, 7th Cir., 2007)