Section 703 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2000e-2(a)(1), makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire any individual because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The term "national origin" on its face refers to the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came. The terms "national origin" and "ancestry" are synonymous.
Petitioners, Mr. and Mrs. Espinoza, brought suit after exhausting their administrative remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that respondent's refusal to hire Mrs. Espinoza in its San Antonio division because of her Mexican citizenship violated § 703 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail or refuse to hire any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The District Court granted petitioners' motion for summary judgment, relying primarily on an EEOC guideline providing that a lawful alien resident may not be discriminated against on the basis of citizenship. The Court of Appeals reversed.
Does an employer's refusal to hire a person because he is not a United States citizen constitute employment discrimination on the basis of "national origin" in violation of § 703?
After interpreting the plain language of the statute and reviewing the statute's legislative history, the Court concluded that by prohibiting discrimination by private employers on the basis of national origin Congress did not intend to embrace citizenship requirements, especially in light of the government's longstanding practice of requiring federal employees to be United States citizens. Therefore, respondent's refusal to hire petitioner wife because of her lack of citizenship did not constitute discrimination on the basis of national origin. Further, petitioners presented no evidence that respondent used its citizenship test as a pretext to disguise a policy of discrimination or that the citizenship test had the purpose or effect of discriminating on the basis of national origin, particularly where a significant percentage of respondent's employees were United States citizens with Mexican ancestry.