Working for Justice

National Origin and Race Discrimination During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Posted April 9th, 2020 by in Race Discrimination.

Asian Americans are facing a surge of discrimination and harassment, and in some cases, violence, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The STOP AAPI HATE reporting center has documented over 1,100 reports of coronavirus-related discrimination since March 19, 2020. While many of these incidents occur in the few places still available to the public, there are valid concerns that incidents of anti-Asian harassment and discrimination have also increased in the workplace.

The STOP AAPI HATE reporting center estimates that at least 4.6% of reported incidents of discrimination against people of Asian descent occurred on the job. Asian employees have complained of being the subject of derogatory comments, baseless accusations that they have COVID-19,  workplace bullying and even termination because of their race or national origin.

Concerns about anti-Asian discrimination in the workplace are so great that Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Chair Janet Dhillon recently issued a statement noting the uptick in incidents of discrimination against Asian Americans and other people of Asian descent and urging employers to “to be mindful of instances of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination in the workplace and to take action to prevent or correct this behavior.” Dhillon’s statement emphasized that these actions could violate Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination based on national origin or race.

Racial or ethnic slurs or jokes may constitute a hostile work environment under Title VII when they are frequent or severe. Furthermore, a supervisor’s derogatory comments about an employee’s race or national origin may indicate that the supervisor harbors racial animus towards the employee. To the extent this animus leads to the supervisor paying the employee less, failing to promote the employee, or terminating the employee, these actions violate Title VII. Finally, discrimination may also occur when an employer takes adverse action against an employee or potential employee based on racial or ethnic stereotypes, for example, refusing to hire anyone of Chinese descent because the employer profiles all Chinese people as carrying the COVID-19 virus.

If you have been the victim of employment discrimination on the basis of your race or national origin, you should consult with a lawyer to determine whether to bring an employment discrimination claim. Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP has experienced employment lawyers in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Tennessee, and Baltimore.

Saba Bireda is a Partner in the Washington, DC office of Sanford Heisler Sharp. Ms. Bireda joined Sanford Heisler Sharp after three years as a member of the senior political staff at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC.
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