Do Anti-Hispanic Statements Constitute "Racial" Discrimination?

There are multiple federal and state laws that address employment discrimination. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on a number of protected characteristics, including race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. Other federal laws are less broad in their scope, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which outlaws racial discrimination but does not cover sex or national origin.

Ex-Bloomberg Housekeeper's Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit Cleared to Proceed

Today, the 1866 law is codified at Title 42, Section 1981 of the United States Code. In a 2016 opinion, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit here in New York addressed the application of Section 1981 to cases involving discrimination against Hispanics. Specifically, the Second Circuit addressed the “question of whether 'Hispanic' describes a race” for purposes of Section 1981.

The Court held that it did, noting that “[d]espite societal confusion regarding Hispanic identity, the existence of a Hispanic 'race' has long been settled” in the law. In practical terms, this means that “two people who both appear to be 'white' in the vernacular sense of the term … may nonetheless belong to different 'races' for purposes of [Section] 1981.” In some cases, a person even belong to “more that one 'race'” for legal purposes, such as being both Arab and Caucasian.

More recently, a federal judge in Brooklyn said a woman could proceed with her Section 1981 claim as a “member of the Hispanic race.” The plaintiff, who is originally from Ecuador, worked as a housekeeper for a private residence owned by former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is not a party to the case. The plaintiff's actual employer was a management company retained by Bloomberg. In her lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges a number of the management company's employees “subjected her to discrimination on the basis of her race, national origin, and gender.”

The judge presiding over the case dismissed several aspects of the plaintiff's complaint, but ruled that she could proceed with a “hostile work environment” claim under Section 1981 and the new York State Human Rights Law. With respect to Section 1981, the plaintiff said the defendants used a number of “epithets regarding 'Spanish people' and 'illegals'” in her presence. (The plaintiff was and is, in fact, authorized to legally work in the United States.) Such incidents, if true, could be sufficient to establish illegal racial discrimination under Section 1981, the judge said. Although Section 1981 does not cover discrimination based on national origin–i.e., the fact the plaintiff hails from Ecuador–it does encompass acts motivated by membership in a racial group.

Speak With a New York Employment Lawyer Today

In any given employment discrimination case, there may be multiple avenues for a plaintiff to recover damages. This is why it is critical to work with a qualified New York employment attorney who can advise you of all your options. If you have been the victim of any kind of workplace discrimination and need advice on what to do next, contact the Law Offices of Nisar Law Group, P.C., at 646.760.6493 today.