An Indiana bank saleswoman married an undocumented alien from Mexico. When he opened his own business, she helped him set up personal and business accounts at the bank where she worked. When she later told her supervisor about her husband’s status and a bank security officer learned of it, his response was unexpectedly harsh.
What happened. "Karen Lopez" married her husband, "Miguel," in 2001 and joined Salin Bank as a manager trainee in 2007. She was soon promoted to bank sales manager. Meanwhile, Miguel, who had come to the United States in 1997, moved to open a car detailing and repair business. Lacking a Social Security number, he instead applied for, and received, an individual tax identification number and used it as well as a driver’s license to open his bank accounts. But the business folded, and Miguel returned to Mexico to try to obtain a valid U.S. visa or citizenship.
Karen then asked her supervisor for 2 weeks’ vacation, explaining her husband’s status. The supervisor notified the bank’s security officer, "Hobbes," who immediately concluded that Miguel’s accounts were based on false documents and thus constituted banking fraud. He screamed at Karen, called her husband ugly names, demanded that Miguel’s accounts be closed, and reported Karen to an area anti-fraud banking committee. Ordered to a second meeting with Hobbes, Karen asked to bring her lawyer, but Hobbes refused. Karen didn’t attend the meeting and was then fired.
She sued for violation of her federal civil rights as well as other charges, including defamation of character. A federal district court judge ruled for the bank, reasoning that under Title VII of civil rights law, being an undocumented alien is not protected. Karen appealed to the 7th Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
What the court said. Appellate judges noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973, in Espinoza v. Farah Mining Co., that "national origin," which is protected from discrimination under Title VII, does not include "citizenship or immigration status." Then judges looked at the bank’s internal investigation report concerning the Lopezes. The bank repeatedly referred to Miguel as an illegal alien but said little or nothing about his race or national origin. So they affirmed the district judge’s ruling that Title VII doesn’t cover immigration status. Cortezano v. Salin Bank, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, No. 11-1631 (2012).
Point to remember: The 7th Circuit believed that neither Miguel’s tax ID number nor his driver’s license was fraudulent. We think the security officer overreacted and treated a good employee badly—though his actions were legal.