During the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, Congress passed landmark legislation known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the Act. Specifically, Title VII of the Act prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, and national origin. (There is currently a push to include sexual orientation discrimination as a Title VII violation.) While Title VII prohibits discrimination based on national origin, it does not prohibit discrimination based on citizenship status.
A Pew Research Center report found that, based on 2014 numbers, Washington State is the home to approximately 250,000 illegal immigrants, which represents an increase of 40,000 over 2009 statistics. Many of those have come to the Evergreen State in search of work in the agricultural sector.
Therefore, in theory, an employer can deny employment or take action against someone if that person is not a citizen of the United States. A recent case, Radek v. Target Corporation, involved an issue where there was a distinction between discrimination based on national origin and based on citizenship.
Radek v. Target
In Radek v. Target, a woman who was a Target employee in Illinois sued the company when Target terminated her employment. The plaintiff is of Hispanic origin. The plaintiff joined Target after undergoing a background check. Target Human Resources did not question her social security number.
After two years of working at Target where she had earned a promotion, an unidentified person sent a letter to the Target Corporation claiming that a dark-haired Hispanic woman was stealing products from the company and selling those products on E-bay. Target Human Resources questioned the plaintiff about the allegations. They also asked her about her social security number and asked her to verify its authenticity. She claimed that because she was born in Texas, she assumed that her mother applied for a social security number there. Target terminated her employment the next day.
The plaintiff alleged that Target improperly fired her based on her race and was therefore in violation of Title VII. She further demonstrated that she was a W-2 employee and paid social security tax, suggesting that there were no issues with respect to her immigration status.
Target countered that the issue was a citizenship issue, not an issue based on race. Because the issue is citizenship-related and not race related, Target had not violated Title VII. As such, Target motioned the Court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims.
The Court denied the motion to dismiss the complaint. The Court reasoned that, based on previous United States Supreme Court rulings, using a citizenship claim-though not Title VII protected-was often used as a pretext based on race. As a result, the court held that the plaintiff’s claim was properly submitted and it should therefore go to trial, thereby dismissing Target’s motion to dismiss.
Are you facing discrimination at the workplace? U.S. laws specifically protect employees who face discrimination based on national origin. Contact the HKM Employment Attorneys, Washington State lawyers advocating on behalf of employees.