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7th Circuit: Employee can’t sue for anti-immigrant bias

Federal employment discrimination law does not provide a remedy for a bank employee who claims she was fired because of her marriage to a Mexican citizen who had entered the U.S. illegally, the 7th Circuit has ruled in affirming a summary judgment.

The plaintiff worked as a bank manager for the defendant. The plaintiff lost her job after the defendant learned that she had married a Mexican citizen who had taken up residence in the U.S. without a valid visa or work permit, and then helped her husband set up bank accounts for a business that ultimately failed.

The plaintiff sued under Title VII, alleging that she was discriminated against because of her marriage to a Mexican citizen whose residence in the U.S. was unauthorized.

But the court decided that the plaintiff’s lawsuit amounted to a claim for alienage-based discrimination, and Title VII does not authorize such claims.

“Discrimination based on one’s status as an immigrant might have been included within the ambit of ‘national origin’ discrimination, but that is not the path the Supreme Court has taken. The Court instead chose almost 40 years ago [in Espinoza v. Farah Mfg. (414 U.S. 86)] to adopt a narrower definition of national origin discrimination for purposes of Title VII. …

“Reviewing [Title VII’s] legislative history, the Court concluded that the term ‘national origin’ was limited to ‘the country from which you or your forebears came.’ Thus, national origin discrimination as defined in Title VII encompasses discrimination based on one’s ancestry, but not discrimination based on citizenship or immigration status,” the court said.

U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit. Cortezano v. Salin Bank & Trust Co., No. 11-1631.

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