The federal lawsuit alleges that for at least the last three years, supervisors at the construction company subjected Latino workers to harassment based on their race and national origin. In some cases, the workers were threatened with sexual assault.
As our Orange county employment attorneys can explain, while racial discrimination and sexual harassment are pretty well understood, national origin discrimination is less so. It involves treating applicants for employment or employees unfavorably on the basis of their actual or perceived place of birth, country of origin, ancestry, native language, accent, or because they are perceived as looking or sounding “foreign.”
In this case, construction workers were reportedly subjected to ongoing harassment in which their co-workers and supervisors referred to them as “wetbacks” and mocked them for not speaking English, and told them to “go back to where you came from.” In the bathrooms, anti-Latino graffiti would cover the walls, including offensive imagery and abusive language.
The Latino workers were also allegedly sexually harassed by co-workers, referred to as derogatory slurs, regularly shown explicit pictures, and threatened with sexual assault.
All of this was reported to higher-ups in the company. However, rather than addressing the harassment, the company terminated one of the employees who had complained. Others were “constructively discharged.”
As the EEOC points out, this type of conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC filed its federal lawsuit in the U.S. District court of the Central District of California. The agency is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for the employees impacted, as well as injunctive relief that would prohibit such workplace wrongdoing for future employees of the company.
A spokeswoman for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office explained that harassment on the basis of gender, race, and national origin is unfortunately quite prevalent in the construction industry. Those impacted may understandably be fearful of coming forward and shining a light on the problem, but it’s the only way to compel change.
Other Examples of National Origin Discrimination
National origin discrimination is unfortunately too common, but it’s not commonly recognized.
Here, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, are a few examples:
- An Arab American worker who is teased regularly by a coworker who engages him in conversations about ISIS, calls him a terrorist, and jokes constantly about him getting deported. After the worker tells his co-worker these comments make him uncomfortable, it doesn’t stop. When he reports it to his boss, the supervisor doesn’t speak to the coworker but instead tells the worker being subjected to the harassment to “just ignore it.”
- A worker who routinely speaks Spanish during her work and sometimes during her lunchbreak is told by a supervisor that this is an “English only” workplace, and that she should cease speaking Spanish. She counters that she does not need to speak English to perform essential job functions or do her job safely and efficiently. She raises the issue with another supervisor, but the issue is not addressed. She is even yelled at by co-workers who say, “This is America, we speak English!” Ultimately, the Spanish speaking employee is transferred to an office with a longer commute with a greater workload. No other workers were impacted.
If you believe you have been impacted by national origin discrimination, our Orange County employment lawyers can answer your questions and discuss your legal options.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
EEOC Sues Construction Company Goodsell/Wilkins for Harassment of Latino Workers, Sept. 27, 2022, EEOC