You can’t be treated differently because of your accent in Texas

Both Texas Labor Code Chapter 21 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guard against workplace discrimination that occurs on the basis of an employee’s national origin. National origin is a characteristic that refers to one’s birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics. Often, national origin discrimination overlaps with race, religion, or color, which are also protected characteristics. For example, discrimination against those from Middle Eastern countries can be motivated by both national origin and the assumption that they subscribe to particular religious practices. Accordingly, a complaint we file on your behalf may assert multiple causes of action or grounds of discrimination.

Often, one’s national origin is revealed through accent. For example, if you grew up in Iran and immigrated to the United States as a young adult, you may still have traces of an Iranian accent. Similarly, if you grew up in Mexico and lived mostly among Mexican immigrants after immigrating, you may speak English with an accent.

You cannot be treated differently in a workplace due to your accent or due to a spouse’s or an associate’s accent. National origin discrimination occurs if an employer makes an adverse employment decision based on your accent. For example, an employer is not supposed to refuse to allow you to work in a customer-facing position due to your accent because he wants to create a more wholesome American image for his restaurant. Similarly, an employer is not supposed to turn down a job applicant for a teaching job because he has an Indian accent.

If you are denied an employment opportunity, such as a job or promotion, based on your accent or way of talking, the employer needs to show that there is a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for this decision. Sometimes an employer makes a decision based on both national origin discrimination and nondiscriminatory reasons. Your ability to recover damages may be limited if an employer acted with mixed motives or if the employer is able to show it would have taken the same adverse action due to another nondiscriminatory factor, even if it hadn’t considered your national origin. You wouldn’t be entitled to reinstatement, back pay, or compensatory damages if the employer successfully shows another nondiscriminatory factor was controlling.

One type of national origin discrimination is workplace harassment. Facing ethnic slurs or harassment over your accent can be upsetting and reduce your productivity in the workplace. A one-off comment is not likely to be considered harassment, but if you are constantly facing intimidating, hostile, or offensive comments about your accent or style of speech, you may be experiencing national origin harassment.

Employers can be held responsible for harassment by their supervisors and managers even if they didn’t authorize or specifically forbade such behavior. Sometimes employers can also be held responsible for coworkers, customers, or clients who harass an employee.

You should follow whichever guidelines are in your employment handbook about how to file an internal grievance. This may include reporting the conduct to HR. You want to give your employer a chance to correct the situation before filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Texas Workforce Commission.

It can be important to obtain representation from an experienced employment lawyer when you have a dispute with your employer regarding discrimination or other matters. Contact us at (214) 528-6500 or via our online intake form.

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