Yes – a recent case illustrates that Caucasian employees from the United States may be able to prevail on claims for race and national origin discrimination under Title VII.
In Koehler v. Infosys Technologies Limited, Inc., a group of Caucasian employees from the United States filed race and national discrimination claims as a putative class action against their employer. No. 13-CV-885-PP (E.D. Wis. May 8, 2015). The employees alleged that their employer, which was based in India, systematically discriminated against Caucasian employees and employed predominantly South Asian employees with either Indian, Bangladeshi, or Nepalese national origins.
The complaint alleged that in one business unit, approximately 96% of the employees were South Asian. One of the Caucasian plaintiffs alleged that the employer set unrealistic goals for him, denied him bonuses, and fired him soon after he finalized a contract with a major client. Another Caucasian plaintiff alleged that she interviewed for a higher position, but was hired for a lower position with less pay and responsibilities, and that she was continually denied promotions as other South Asian employees were promoted.
The complaint also alleged that some of the employer’s executives openly acknowledged the alleged discrimination. For example, the complaint alleged that the executives encouraged recruiters to hire South Asians because “they will work off the clock without murmur and they can always be transferred across the nation without hesitation unlike [a] local workforce.”
After the complaint was filed, the employer filed a motion to dismiss. The court denied the motion, reasoning that the complaint set forth plausible claims of race and national origin discrimination. As a result, the plaintiffs’ claims will proceed to the discovery phase of litigation.
Takeaway: It’s important for employers to remember that all employees belong to one protected class or another, whether its race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or another status. An employee may be able to assert plausible claims of discrimination even if the employee belongs to a group that is not characteristically associated with discrimination.