Three federal appellate courts have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination based on the race, religion, national origin, etc. of the employee's spouse. Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a national origin discrimination claim from an employee who claimed that she was terminated because her spouse was of Mexican descent.
In Cortezano v. Salin Bank & Trust Co., the plaintiff was a bank sales manager who married an undocumented alien from Mexico. The plaintiff's husband opened several accounts at the bank where his wife worked, but later departed the U.S. in order to gain legal entry status. Once the bank found out about the plaintiff's husband's immigration status, it concluded that the plaintiff had assisted him in opening accounts using false documents in violation of banking regulations. After being terminated, the plaintiff sued, alleging national origin discrimination.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. Without deciding the spousal association issue, the court concluded that Title VII does not protect citizenry or immigration status. The court noted that the bank was aware of the plaintiff's spouse's Mexican ancestry, but did not take any action against her until it learned of his immigration status. Federal law prohibits national origin discrimination, but makes clear that such protections do not extend to unauthorized aliens. National origin discrimination claims can only be based on the plaintiff's (or arguably the spouse's) country of origin, and not legal issues associated with that person's entry into the U.S.