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Vineyard Settlement Highlights National Origin Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics. While gender, race, and religion protections are familiar to many readers, the statute also protects employees from discrimination related to national origin.

Three Mexican-born employees at a California vineyard sued their employer for tolerating national origin harassment in the workplace. They claimed that their manager, an American-born Latino disparaged them by calling them foul immigration-related names. When they complained to him about the discriminatory treatment, he allegedly told them to return to Mexico.

After the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the vineyard on their behalf, the employer agreed to settle the case for $75,000. The employer will also take steps to prevent future discrimination.

This case illustrates how national origins discrimination differs from racial discrimination. Although potentially confusing for some employees, national origin discrimination looks solely at where an employee was born or formerly resided. It has nothing to do with racial characteristics. Thus, although the supervisor was also Latino, his use of demeaning slang words like "wetback" to discriminate against these workers was nevertheless illegal.

The employees in this case said that they didn't know that Title VII covers this kind of behavior. As one of the EEOC's attorneys said, "We hope this case clearly signals that the civil rights laws of this country protect everyone from illegal discrimination, regardless of their ancestry or place of birth."

Source: Napa Valley Register, "Constellation Wines settles harassment lawsuit," Oct. 11, 2012

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