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Posted: March 21, 2016

Hispanic Describes a Race for Purposes of § 1981 and Title VII

On February 16, 2016, the Second Circuit issued a decision in Village of Freeport v. Barrella, 14‐2270‐CV(L), reviewing a decision by the EDNY determining “whether ‘Hispanic’ describes a race for purposes of § 1981 and Title VII.”

In Village of Freeport, the plaintiff sued the defendant village and its former mayor “under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq., alleging that” the defendant mayor “had not appointed him chief of police because [the plaintiff] was a white Italian‐American, and that [the mayor] had instead appointed a less‐qualified Hispanic.” The EDNY held that discrimination based on “Hispanic ancestry or lack thereof” stated a claim under the federal civil rights law. The Second Circuit affirmed, explaining:

This case asks us to resolve a vexed and recurring question: what does it mean to be Hispanic? Specifically, it presents the question of whether “Hispanic” describes a race for purposes of § 1981 and Title VII.

. . .

Based on longstanding Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedent, we reiterate that “race” includes ethnicity for purposes of § 1981, so that discrimination based on Hispanic ancestry or lack thereof constitutes racial discrimination under that statute. We also hold that “race” should be defined the same way for purposes of Title VII.

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