The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently decided that workplace discrimination on the basis of status as an illegal immigrant does not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the federal anti-discrimination laws. See Cortezano v. Salin Bank & Trust Co., 2012 WL 1814258 (May 21, 2012). Decisions of the Seventh Circuit govern the interpretation of federal law in Wisconsin.

Under Title VII, employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of national origin. The employee in the Cortezano case was married to a Mexican, who was also an illegal immigrant. When the bank found out about Cortezano’s husband’s immigration status, it terminated Cortezano. Cortezano claimed that this constituted discrimination on the basis of national origin. The Court disagreed, noting that the phrase “national origin” had been defined by the United States Supreme Court to mean the country from which one or one’s ancestors came. The phrase has nothing to do with whether an individual who came from another country came to this country illegally. The Court found that the evidence showed that the bank did not terminate Cortezano because her husband was from Mexico, but because he came to the U.S. illegally. The bank’s actions thus did not violate Title VII.

Wisconsin courts and administrative bodies have yet to address this specific issue under Wisconsin law. Employers should therefore consult with their attorneys before taking adverse action based on status as an illegal immigrant.

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