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U.S. citizenship status irrelevant to Title VII claims

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, it does not separately protect employees from discrimination based on their citizenship status. What counts is alleged discrimination based on the country of origin, not whether someone is a citizen of the United States or some other country.

Recent case: Maria De Payan worked for more than a decade as a full-time “crew member” at a Wendy’s restaurant. De Payan is of Hispanic origin and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. She was 58 years old when she was terminated.

De Payan filed an EEOC complaint and a federal lawsuit, alleging that she had been discriminated against because of her national origin. But her complaint merely said that she had been fired because she told her supervisors she thought she was being treated less favorably than other Hispanic employees who were illegal immigrants not permitted to work in the United States. In effect, she claimed the company gave preference to illegal immigrants, and that she had been singled out for termination because she was in the country legally.

The court tossed out the claim. It said national origin refers to the “country where a person is born, or more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came,” and that “Congress did not intend the term national origin to embrace citizenship requirements.”

In other words, it would be illegal to single out De Payan because she is Hispanic, but not because she is a U.S. citizen. (De Payan v. Wend-Rockies, No. 07-CV-02520, DC CO, 2008)

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