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Race, Color or National Origin


From our friend Toni Ahl at EEO Advantage

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, protects individuals from discrimination based on race, color and national origin. I think many people are confused with these bases. It is not uncommon for the three bases to be connected. This fact may lead to some of the confusion.

Race has been defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The races OMB outlined are those that are listed on the charge forms the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) uses. They are:

American Indian or Alaskan Native;


Black or African American;

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and


Although not specifically listed, charges may also be taken if a person’s background is more than one of the listed races. These races have not been updated by OMB for many years.

Color discrimination is based on the tone of one’s skin. It is not the same as race discrimination although many people confuse them. In color discrimination, employees are treated differently due to the darkness or lightness of their skin.

National origin discrimination involves treating people differently because they are from a particular country or part of the world. This treatment may be based on someone’s appearance or accent. It may be a broad national origin like Hispanic or Latino. It might also be specific to one country like Bosnian. People of different national origins may be members of any of the previously listed races.

These lines blur together especially for employees who do not work with the law. Many times, employees will say color instead of race when, in reality, the discriminatory treatment is a matter of race rather than color. Hispanic individuals may classify themselves as either Black or White. It is not uncommon for employees to say their race is Hispanic rather than stating that as their national origin.

It is often difficult to look at someone and correctly determine race and/or national origin. Employers should not make assumptions based on the appearance of an employee. If the person alleges race and/or national origin discrimination, the employer should always ask what those classes are. Making determinations based on someone’s accent has the same pitfalls. It’s very difficult to determine the subtle differences in some accents.

Employees may make mistaken assumptions based on the clothes a person wears or the food he/she eats. National origin is sometimes tied to an individual’s religious beliefs.

Rather than treating employees differently due to differences, perhaps we should embrace the differences and celebrate diversity. Diversity frequently brings new outlooks and ways of solving issues.

If you would like more information about race, color and/or national origin discrimination, feel free to reach out to me at eeoadvantage@gmail.com or (502) 553-7648.

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