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Concerns about immigration status don’t equal national-origin discrimination

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in Human Resources

Employees who claim their employers somehow discriminated against them because they have immigration problems or aren’t U.S. citizens can’t automatically sue for national-origin discrimination under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) or Title VII.

Instead, they must prove that the underlying discrimination was based on national origin. In other words, by itself, an employer’s concern about citizenship or immigration status isn’t “code” for national-origin discrimination.

Recent case: Mfon Udoeyop, who is a native of Nigeria, was fired from her job with Accessible Space, an assisted-living facility, after a resident complained that Udoeyop had been involved in an inappropriate romantic relationship with another resident.

When her boss called a meeting to discuss the allegations, Udoeyop didn’t admit to the inappropriate relationship, but the facility fired her anyway.

She sued, alleging she had been discriminated against based on her national origin. Udoeyop said her supervisor, during their meeting, had threatened to report her to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and other government agencies. She claimed that by questioning her legal status as a citizen of another country or her immigration standing, her employer was singling her out because of her national origin.

The court disagreed. It said that citizenship status or immigration status is not the same as national origin. She would have to prove that the underlying reason was her Nigerian origin, not her citizenship. She couldn’t. (Udoeyop v. Accessible Space, No. 08-4743, DC MN 2008)

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