Oakland, CA asked in Employment Law for California

Q: What resources are available to help a teacher/sub if the following scenario happens:

Good morning,

I would like to have your advice about the following:

What resources are available to help a teacher/sub if the following scenario happens:

1 - Does a High School principal have the right to ask a teacher who is just starting to work for the first day the question "Where are you from?"

2 - The teacher refuses to answer the question by saying: "I do apologize, but I don't discuss nationality, politics, and religion". Then the principal gets disrespectful, threatens the teacher and when the teacher still refuses to answer the question, the principal says: "get out of my campus" and then kicks out the teacher"

Your help is much appreciated.


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2 Lawyer Answers
Neil Pedersen
Neil Pedersen
  • Westminster, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: There is nothing inherently unlawful about asking the question. It would be unlawful to engage in harassment or discrimination based on the answer.

By refusing to answer that simple question, you engaged in a form of insubordination. Insubordination will usually justify the action taken. However, if you are in a union, it may be possible that you may find some assistance there.

Good luck to you.

Ian Pike
Ian Pike
  • San Diego, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Although there is nothing inherently illegal about asking the question "where are you from" to an employee, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of his or her membership in a protected class, which includes race or national origin. Thus, in your hypothetical scenario it would be unlawful for the principal to intentionally discriminate against the teacher on the basis of his or her membership in a protected class. If, however, there was no intent to discriminate, then it would probably not violate state or federal anti-discrimination laws.

Several courts have noted the question "where are you from," depending on the context, can be evidence of intentional discrimination, that is to say animosity towards a person's race or national origin. As you phrased the question it is not clear what the context or other surrounding circumstances were, so it is not possible to say one way or the other whether the teacher's rights were violated.

An experience labor and employment attorney--many of whom will consult with potential clients for free--would be able to ask the right questions to figure out whether, on the facts and circumstances of this particular case, the evidence could support a conclusion the principal was motivated by an intent to discriminate.

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