Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. However, this prohibition does not override the basic legal requirement that all employees be eligible to work in the U.S. A recent case from the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals demonstrates how alleged interference with an employee's immigration status is not the same as national origin discrimination.
In Guimaraes v. SuperValu, Inc., the plaintiff was a Brazilian national working for the defendant under a H1-B visa. She alleged that she began to experience a series of work performance problems with her supervisor. The plaintiff was eventually laid off and sued claiming national origin discrimination. As evidence of this claim, she contended that a co-worker advised her that the supervisor had tried to stop the plaintiff's green card process so that she would no longer be able to work for the defendant.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment for the employer. The court said that there is no direct legal link between immigration status and national origin discrimination. Alleged interference with immigration status does not mean that the supervisor was motivated by the plaintiff's national origin. Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on citizenship status.
Employers should use caution when interpreting this case. In some instances, courts may view discussions regarding immigration status as "code" for national origin discrimination. However, employers are not legally obligated to assist employees or applicants with immigration status, and discrimination claims based only on immigration status will not state a claim of discrimination under Title VII.