Here’s a case that illustrates why an “English-only” policy just doesn’t work in today’s workplace.
A regional medical center in California recently agreed to pay $975,000 to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of a class of approximately 70 Filipino-American hospital workers.
According to the EEOC, the workers, mostly nursing staff, were the targets of harassing comments, undue scrutiny and discipline — particularly when speaking with a Filipino accent or in Filipino languages like Tagalog or Ilocano.
Supervisors, staff, and even volunteers at the Delano Regional Medical Center were allegedly encouraged to act as vigilantes, constantly berating and reprimanding Filipino-American employees.
According to the EEOC, staffers constantly made fun of the Filipino-American workers’ accents, ordering them to speak English even when they were already speaking in English. Some Filipino-American workers endured humiliating threats of arrest if they did not speak English and were told to go back to the Philippines.
Things got particularly ugly in a 2006 meeting, where the chief executive officer and hospital management called only Filipino-American staff to a meeting and threatened them about the consequences of not complying with the hospital’s English-only policy, according to investigators. The threats included the installation of surveillance equipment to monitor the employees’ conversations.
No other groups were targeted in the meeting, the EEOC said The policy allegedly required employees to speak in English except when speaking to a patient with other language needs or during break time.
What was worse, the EEOC said, was that the policy was enforced unevenly. Non-Filipino staff who routinely spoke languages other than English — such as those who spoke Spanish — weren’t disciplined or warned about violating the English-only policy.
And management allegedly ignored a formal petition reporting the harassment and discrimination, according to the feds.
Aside from the monetary settlement, the medical center agreed to develop strong protocols for handling harassment and discrimination, and to amend its English-only policy. The hospital further agreed to hire an EEO monitor to assist Delano to comply with the terms of the agreement, and to conduct anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all staff with additional training for supervisors.