What is Ethnicity Discrimination?
What is Ethnicity Discrimination?

What is Ethnicity Discrimination?

San Francisco employment discrimination attorneys representing victims of national origin discrimination

Federal and California laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of national origin, ancestry, race, or color. San Francisco employers engage in prohibited ethnicity discrimination when they treat a job applicant or employee less favorably than others because of the person’s name, accent, skin color, or other marker of ethnic heritage. The employment discrimination attorneys at Minnis & Smallets help San Francisco area employees and job applicants who have been discriminated against because of their ethnicity.

Ethnicity Discrimination Laws

State and federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of national origin and ancestry, as well as race and color. These laws forbid employers from basing employment decisions on an employee’s birthplace, skin color, or other aspects of appearance and speech that reflect an individual’s ethnicity. State law applies to California employers of 5 or more employees; the federal law applies to employers of 15 or more employees.

National origin discrimination includes unfavorable decisions about hiring, termination, compensation, benefits, promotion, job assignments, and other terms and conditions of employment that are made because of the employee or applicant’s national origin. National origin discrimination refers to unfair treatment that occurs because the employee or applicant is, or is perceived as being, from a different country. The law also prohibits discriminating against an employee or job applicant because of the national origin of that person’s spouse, friends, or associates.

Ethnicity discrimination is a substantial problem in California, where a third of all employees were born outside of the United States. The employment discrimination attorneys at Minnis & Smallets represent employees who have been subjected to ethnicity discrimination in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area.

Ethnicity Harassment

California, as well as federal, law forbids the harassment of an employee because of that employee’s national origin or ancestry. Examples of harassment include:

  • Mocking an employee’s accent
  • Making fun of an employee’s name because it is associated with members of a particular nationality or ethnicity
  • Making disparaging remarks about the ethnic group to which the employee belongs
  • Claiming the employee is an inferior worker because of the employee’s birthplace or ancestry
  • Making insulting comments toward an employee because of the employee’s birthplace or ancestry
  • Telling offensive jokes that target members of an employee’s ethnic group
  • Being physically abusive toward an employee because of the employee’s national origin or ancestry

The FEHA prohibits ethnicity harassment regardless of the number of employees who work for an employer. California’s protection against ethnicity harassment also extends to unpaid interns and contractors when they are harassed in the workplace.

Infrequent and mild instances of teasing are not necessarily unlawful, but ethnicity harassment that is frequent or severe violates state and federal law if it creates a hostile work environment or if it results in an adverse employment action, such as a disciplinary suspension or a demotion. The employment discrimination lawyers at San Francisco’s Minnis & Smallets evaluate ethnicity harassment claims and advise victims of their rights and options.

Language and Accent Discrimination

Discriminating against an employee or job applicant because the person speaks English with an accent is generally prohibited by California and federal law. An accent is a characteristic of national origin. For that reason, discriminating against an employee because of an accent is viewed as being the same as discriminating on the basis of national origin.

When a job requires communication with the public, removing an employee from the job (or denying the job to an applicant) might be permitted when an accent interferes with job performance. The inability of most people to understand the employee’s spoken English would be an example of interference with job performance in a job that requires communication. On the other hand, the fact that customers might not want to do business with an employee who speaks English with an accent is not an acceptable reason to treat the employee unfavorably.

A California law also prohibits employers from adopting an “English only” rule in the workplace unless the rule is justified by the needs of the business. Employees who have been disciplined, fired, or subjected to other adverse action because they spoke a language other than English in the workplace should seek advice from a San Francisco employment discrimination lawyer.


Any act or threat of retaliation against an employee who complains about ethnicity discrimination is prohibited by state and federal law. The same protections apply to employees who help a person who has been discriminated against make a complaint, who cooperate with a discrimination investigation, or who testify in legal proceedings on behalf of the person who has been discriminated against.

California laws also protect undocumented workers from ethnicity discrimination and retaliation.

Legal Help for Ethnicity Discrimination

Employees and job applicants who experience employment discrimination because of skin color, accent, name, or other markers of national origin or ancestry should consider obtaining legal advice. The employment discrimination attorneys at San Francisco’s Minnis & Smallets are dedicated to representing people who have been subjected to discrimination because of their ethnicity. To learn more, call us at 1-415-551-0885 or submit our online contact form.

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