The legal line between race and national origin discrimination claims continues to fade as federal courts take an increasingly expansive definition of the term “race.” Last month in an unpublished decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North Carolina and South Carolina) allowed a Section 1981 race discrimination claim to proceed based on allegations that a supervisor wanted to terminate African-born nurses due to fear of claimed voodoo practices.
In Nnadozie v. Genesis Healthcare Corp., a group of nurses brought race discrimination claims under Section 1981, as well as race and national original claims under Title VII, after they alleged that they were the targets of a supervisor looking to get rid of employees originally from Africa. The employer sought summary judgment with regard to the Section 1981 claims on the basis that the alleged discriminatory acts were based not on race but rather on the plaintiffs’ countries of origin.
The Fourth Circuit disagreed, reversing a grant of summary judgment on the Section 1981 claims. The court said that the supervisor’s alleged actions involved stereotyping Africans based on shared ethnicity, which constitutes race discrimination as defined under Section 1981. This decision is important for employers because Section 1981 is often used by plaintiffs who have not met the administrative requirements for filing a Title VII claim, as well as those looking to avoid Title VII’s damage caps. An expansive definition of race under Section 1981 means that a broader class of plaintiffs can seek legal recourse under that alternative statute.