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National Origin Discrimination vs. Race Discrimination: What's the Difference?

Are you thinking about suing your employer for race discrimination? While this type of unlawful employer behavior is the most common in the United States according to current EEOC charge statistics, you may want to reassess your situation before contacting an employment attorney. This is because, while race and national origin often overlap, many employees mistake race discrimination for national origin discrimination. And although they may sound the same, California and federal employment laws address each protected class separately. This common mistake is easy to make since your race is usually connected to your national origin. So, how do you know if you're being subjected to workplace discrimination due to your race, or if it's related to your national origin?

Are you thinking about suing your employer for race discrimination? While this type of unlawful employer behavior is the most common in the United States according to current EEOC charge statistics, you may want to reassess your situation before contacting an employment attorney. This is because, while race and national origin often overlap, many employees mistake race discrimination for national origin discrimination. And although they may sound the same, California and federal employment laws address each protected class separately. This common mistake is easy to make since your race is usually connected to your national origin. So, how do you know if you're being subjected to workplace discrimination due to your race, or if it's related to your national origin?

What is the Difference Between National Origin and Race?

Under federal and California employment laws, national origin and race are treated separately, as each is defined by specific characteristics. National origin can be explained as the country where a person was born, or where someone's ancestors lived (i.e. China or Mexico). Race, on the other hand, refers to a group of people who share similar and distinct physical characteristics and genetic traits (ie. skin color).

Someone's national origin doesn't necessarily correlate with a physical characteristic, but many people confuse race with national origin and vice versa. To paint a clearer picture of what constitutes race or national origin discrimination, consider the following example: If a person of Korean ancestry were born in Canada, he or she would be considered "Korean," but their national origin would be "Canadian." Thus, if a Korean worker living in California faced discrimination at work due to common physical traits that pertain to Korean people, or Asians more broadly, the worker would be facing race discrimination, not national origin discrimination.

What is Discrimination Based on National Origin?

According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), activity constituting national origin discrimination in the workplace can come in a variety of forms, and occurs when an employee or job applicant who is actually from another country, or believed to be from another country is subjected to negative treatment by an employer due to his or her national origin. These unlawful employer behaviors can range from workplace bullying and harassment due to an employee's country of birth, to language restrictions, to denial of training because an employee has a thick accent, and even refusing to hire an applicant who is from a country deemed unfavorable by a hiring manager.

National origin discrimination can also involve an employer treating an employee unfavorably because he or she is married to (or associated with) someone of a certain national origin.

What is Race Discrimination in the Workplace?

Similar to national origin discrimination, under California and federal law, adverse employment actions constituting race discrimination at work can vary from case to case. Unlawful race discrimination can be directed at both employees and job applicants who fall into any racial or ethnic group. Workplace racial discrimination can happen to a person who is actually of a certain race, to someone who is simply perceived to be a member of a particular race, and even if his or her spouse or family member is of a certain race or color.

These unlawful employer behaviors can be anything from a supervisor subjecting an employee to unfair write-ups, decreases in pay, denial of overtime pay, or even termination due to his or her race or ethnicity, actual or perceived.

Signs of National Origin and Race Discrimination

It is illegal for your employer to subject you to adverse employment actions because of your race, ethnicity, or national origin. If you notice that you've been suffering from any following common examples of workplace discrimination due to your race or national origin, consider speaking to an experienced employment attorney.

  • You weren't hired by a company because of your national origin or race;
  • You have been physically abused or insulted at work due to your national origin or race;
  • You have been threatened with violence because of your national origin or race;
  • You have been unfairly disciplined by your employer due to your national origin or race;
  • You have received negative performance reviews because of your national origin or race;
  • You have been excluded from your project meetings because of your national origin or race;
  • You have been denied ongoing training because of your national origin or race;
  • You have been denied a promotion or raise because of your national origin or race;
  • Your workload has increased due to your national origin or race;
  • You were fired because of your national origin or race.

Additional Information on Race and National Origin Discrimination

  • Facts About National Origin Discrimination via the EEOC
  • Facts About Race Discrimination via the EEOC
  • National Origin Discrimination in California: Real EEOC Case Examples
  • Race Discrimination Cases in California: Real EEOC Case Examples
  • [Infographic] 10 Surprising Facts About Race Discrimination in the Workplace

You should never have to worry about discrimination at work due to your race or cultural background, and the behaviors outlined above are illegal. If you feel you are a victim of workplace discrimination, contact our experienced California employment attorneys today for a free consultation.

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