“European” Is Protected Class for National-Origin Discrimination

A federal case in Alexandria last month raised an interesting issue that’s caused conflict within federal trial courts: What does a reverse-discrimination plaintiff need to prove?

The federal trial court, which ended up granting summary judgment to the employer, ruled that “Europeans” occupy a protected class under Title VII’s prohibition on national-origin discrimination. The employer passed over the European applicant for a candidate of Indian descent, who the employer argued was better qualified.

Interestingly, though, the court noted a severe split among federal appeals courts, and even disputes among trial courts within the Fourth Circuit, which encompasses Virginia. Some courts require so-called reverse-discrimination plaintiffs to show the employer had some underlying, “invidious” intent to discriminate against majority groups. Other circuits apply the same law as any other discrimination case, simply requiring the plaintiff to show an individual from another national origin (in this case) was hired. The judge noted that the Fourth Circuit has refused to rule on this issue, leading to disagreement in the federal trial courts over the correct standard.

In the end, the judge applied the typical discrimination standards, but ruled that the European candidate was less qualified than the Indian candidate the employer eventually hired and granted the employer summary judgment.

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