Thursday, August 28, 2008

LPGA Tour implements English proficiency requirement

From this morning's USA Today:

The LPGA tour will use the next four months to create evaluation procedures for its new policy requiring its member golfers to speak English or face suspension.

All players who have been on the tour for two years could be suspended if they fail to pass an oral evaluation of their English proficiency starting at the end of the 2009 season.

The evaluation will assess communication skills, including conversation. Players will be required to conduct interviews, interact with pro-am partners and fans and give acceptance speeches in English and without the help of an interpreter, according to LPGA deputy commissioner Libba Galloway.

"For an athlete to be successful in the sport-entertainment business we live in today, they need to perform on and off the field of play, and communicating effectively is a big part of that," Galloway said "We are a U.S.-based tour, and the majority of our pro-am players, our fans, our sponsors speak English."

I've written before about the legality of English-only rules. Generally, courts uphold English-only rules if the employer can show a legitimate business justification for the requirement. Examples include:

  • Curbing employee hostilities.
  • Promoting communication with customers, coworkers, or supervisors who only speak English.
  • Enabling employees to speak a common language to promote safety or enable cooperative work assignments.
  • Facilitating a supervisor's ability monitor the performance of an employee.
  • Furthering interpersonal relations among employees.

548016_golfer The LPGA's rule is not a ban on the use of foreign languages, but, as the press has been reporting it, a requirement that its members are proficient in English. Thus, it is less onerous than a prohibition on the use of one's native language. Nevertheless, pundits are already decrying this proposal and opining on its illegality.

Let's look at the LPGA's rationale for this rule. 18 of this year's 23 LPGA tournaments have been won by players for whom English is not their native language, including all four of this year's majors. 45 of the 120 players on tour are South Korean, seven of which in the top 20. The LPGA has made the decision that to grow its sport in its home country, its stars need to be able to communicate effectively with the media. The LPGA is not requiring its members only speak English, but that they are able to communicate in English when the need arises (such as in press conferences or pro-am events). Because of this legitimate business purpose, the LPGA's proposed rule should pass muster under Title VII.