CHICAGO (CN) – A woman who says she was fired for marrying a Mexican national who entered the United States illegally cannot sue her former employer, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Kristi and Javier Cortezano married in 2001. Javier had entered the Unites States illegally in 1997, taking up residence without a valid visa or work permit.
When Indiana-based Salin Bank & Trust hired Kristi in 2007, she named Javier as a joint owner on her Salin account.
Around the same time, Javier tried to start a car detailing and repair business, using an individual tax identification number and his joint account with Kristi to open two other accounts. It is unclear how Javier obtained the tax identification number.
Javier returned to Mexico to apply for U.S. citizenship when his business floundered, and Kristi, a bank sales manager at the time, asked for two weeks off to help her husband with the application in Mexico.
Unsure how to handle the revelation about Javier’s unauthorized status, Kristi’s supervisor granted the vacation request but called Salin Bank security officer Mike Hubb.
Hubb arranged a meeting with Kristi upon her return to discuss whether it was legal for her to have a joint account with a known undocumented alien.
During the meeting, Hubb allegedly “got in Kristi’s face, screamed at her, called Javier a ‘piece of shit,’ and demanded that Kristi admit that Javier illegally opened his Salin Bank accounts,” according to the court’s summary of Cortezano’s subsequent lawsuit.
Hubb filed an internal Suspicious Activity Report, prompting the bank to draft a termination notice that was never sent to Kristi. Instead, another meeting was set.
But the bank refused to let Kristi’s attorney attend the meeting. When the pair began to leave, a Salin Bank representative told Kristi that, by walking away from the meeting, she was “abandoning [her] job.” Kristi was terminated that afternoon for refusing to participate in the meeting.
Hubb subsequently reported Kristi’s activity to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and allegedly warned other banks at a meeting of the Fraud Financial Network that Kristi was fired for opening fraudulent accounts for Javier, whom he described as an “illegal immigrant who is now back in Mexico.”
Kristi’s suit alleged employment discrimination in violation of federal law, as well as state claims of defamation, blacklisting and emotional distress.
The 2008 lawsuit claimed that Salin Bank discriminated against Kristi in violation of Title VII because she was married to a Mexican citizen.
A federal judge granted the bank summary judgment on all claims, and the 7th Circuit affirmed Monday.
“We have not decided whether discrimination based on the race or national origin of a person’s spouse or partner falls within the protections of Title VII,” Judge Diane Wood wrote for a three-judge panel. “Although we note that several of our sister circuits have ruled that Title VII’s protections apply in such cases … the answer to this question is immaterial to Kristi’s case, and so we leave it for another day.”
Even assuming that Title VII applies to discrimination against one’s spouse, Kristi’s claim still fails because Salin Bank had discriminated based on Javier’s alien status, not national origin, according to the federal appeals court.
The panel pointed to Hubb’s remarks, emails and decision to report Kristi’s activities to federal immigration authorities as evidence that Javier’s alien status was the reason for her firing.
A 1973 decision by the Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Farah Manufacturing informed the 7th Circuit’s decision.
“The court instead chose almost 40 years ago to adopt a narrower definition of national origin discrimination [concluding] that the term ‘national origin’ was limited to ‘the country from which you or your forebears came,'” Wood wrote.
“The court thought that it would have been inconsistent for Congress to have proscribed discrimination against aliens given the ‘longstanding practice of requiring federal employees to be United States citizens.'”
Subsequent steps by Congress to limit the court’s holding with regard to discrimination against noncitizens specifically excluded unauthorized aliens from protection.
“Any discrimination suffered by Kristi was not the result of her marriage to a Mexican, but rather the result of her marriage to an unauthorized alien,” Wood concluded. “Under the circumstances, the district court correctly granted summary judgment in Salin Bank’s favor on Kristi’s claims under federal law.”
The panel also dismissed Kristi’s state-law claims, but said that the names of Kristi’s minor children must be scratched from a Salin Bank summary judgment brief because they are entitled to privacy under circuit rules.