Is “African” A Nationality?

A company sued under Title VII by the EEOC came up with an interesting defense.

The suit alleged national origin discrimination — that an assisted living company in Colorado fired four employees who were all of African origin – three from Sudan and one from Ethiopia.  The facility director allegedly told the staff development coordinator that they should “get rid of ‘these people,’ referring to providers of African origin, ‘because they just can’t speak English.’”

The company’s defense?  That “Africa” is not a country nor “African” a protected class under Title VII.

Question Mark, Question, Response

Seems pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty clever, right?

However, the Court did not buy it.

According to Law 360, it held that “courts in various circuits have published opinions that recognize the term as a protected class for discrimination claims based on national origin.”

The Court said that “the EEOC’s use of ‘African’ [is not] problematic.  … Likewise, defendants’ argument that employees of different national origins cannot be members of the same protected class is not well taken.”

Question, Question Mark, Symbol

Takeaway:  An EEOC attorney said that “The case law is clear that for purposes of national origin discrimination under Title VII, African describes a group entitled to protection.”

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]