Workplace English Rule Illegal
APRIL 16, 2009
Although federal law allows employers to require English on the job, a national healthcare firm will dish out nearly half a million dollars to settle a discrimination lawsuit in which the U.S. government alleges Hispanic workers were punished for speaking Spanish.
Filed by the federal agency that enforces the nation’s workplace discrimination laws, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the suit accuses Skilled Healthcare Group Inc. of enforcing an English-only rule against Hispanics. The firm operates nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Western and Southern states and the government says Hispanic employees were harassed for not speaking English.
In its lawsuit the government accuses the firm of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by committing national origin discrimination against the Spanish speakers. In all, the EEOC identified 53 Hispanic employees at facilities in California and Texas who were subjected to disparate treatment and harassment based on their shared Spanish language.
To avoid costly litigation the company, which caters to large urban areas, agreed to a three-year consent decree settlement, which includes paying the workers a total of $450,000 and providing annual national origin discrimination training.
A few years ago the EEOC sued the Salvation Army for national origin discrimination because it required two Hispanic employees at its Massachusetts thrift store to speak English on the job. The Christian charity eventually agreed to a court-approved consent decree settlement requiring it to adopt a new policy that employees shall use English “to the best of their abilities.”
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