HR News & Trends, Legal Issues

Hospital To Pay Nearly $1 Million To Settle Workplace Language Lawsuit

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In one of the largest language discrimination settlements ever negotiated by the EEOC, a California hospital agreed to pay almost $1 million to settle a case over its English-only policy.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Delano Regional Medical Center will pay $975,000, revise its language policy, conduct anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all staff and especially supervisors, hire an EEO monitor, and file periodic reports with the EEOC.

The case stems from allegations by 69 Filipino-American workers at the hospital that they, alone among employees who spoke other languages, were harassed and disciplined for speaking, even among themselves, in Tagalog, Llocano or other languages common in the Philippines.

Largest workplace language discrimination lawsuit

The hospital defended its language policy and said it had done nothing wrong, but settled the case to avoid further litigation.

The legal action was brought jointly by the EEOC and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. The center said the settlement is the largest for a workplace language discrimination case in the West Coast and the largest in the health care industry. Filipinos make up a significant percentage of all nurses in the U.S. and represent more than half of all foreign-trained nurses in the country, the Associated Press reported.

The hospital’s language policy required all bilingual staff to use English or the patient’s preferred language when providing care. However, the EEOC and the Law Center charged in the lawsuit that the policy was enforced only against the Filipino-American staff.

According to the settlement announcement from the EEOC, the harassment at Delano hospital began after a 2006 meeting called by top executives at the facility, which is in California’s agricultural center, the San Joaquin Valley. At the meeting, attended only by managers and the Filipino-American staff, they were told to speak only English and warned they would be monitored electronically if necessary.

Ridiculed for their accents

Thereafter, the workers said, they were subjected to ridicule for their accents, and harassed by co-workers, as well as others. “Supervisors, staff, and even volunteers were allegedly encouraged to act as vigilantes, constantly berating and reprimanding Filipino-American employees for nearly six years,” the EEOC said.

“Some Filipino-American workers endured humiliating threats of arrest if they did not speak English and were told to go back to the Philippines. In a particularly offensive incident, an employee sprayed air freshener on a claimant’s lunch due to the offender’s self-professed hatred of Filipino food.”

A list of other EEOC language and national origin cases is available here.

John has been writing about recruiting and employment for nearly a decade,and has worked in the field for almost twice as long. He traces his connection to the employment industry back to the beginning of the commercial Internet when he managed some of the earliest news oriented websites. These offered job boards, which became highly popular with users. John worked with agencies and large employers on job postings, resume search, and campaigns, before consulting with media companies on audience development and online advertising sales.