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Q: Over the summer, I saw that President Trump tweeted that four minority Democrat congresswomen should “go back” to where they came from. What Human Resources lessons can be learned from the President’s tweet?
A: In July 2019, President Trump tweeted that certain Democrat congresswomen “who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” The President affirmed that he was referring to Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). All are U.S. citizens, all are minorities, and only one was actually born outside the United States.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. As many commentators have noted, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance specifically provides that the following types of conduct are examples of harassment based on national origin: “insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent or comments like, ‘go back to where you came from,’ whether made by supervisors or by co-workers.” If particularly severe or pervasive, such conduct could rise to the level of unlawful harassment. However, a company does not need to wait for an employee’s conduct to become illegal before taking action.