Showing posts with label national origin discrimination. Show all posts
Showing posts with label national origin discrimination. Show all posts

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Think twice before implenting that “English only” rule in your workplace

White Americans, what?
Nothing better to do?
Why don't you kick yourself out?
You’re an immigrant too!

– Jack White, Icky Thump (2007)

Total Employment and Management has agreed to pay $276,000 to settle a national origin discrimination and retaliation charge filed with the EEOC challenging the employer's "no Spanish" rule in its workplace.

The EEOC alleged that TEAM not only imposed its no-Spanish rule without an adequate business justification to support it, but it also fired five employees for defying the rule and continuing to speak Spanish.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Supporting our AAPI employees in their time of crisis

The stats are jarring, disturbing, and scary. During the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been nearly 3,800 reported anti-Asian hate incidents, including shunning, slurs, and physical attacks. That number represents a stunning 46 percent increase over the prior year, and still just a small percentage of the actual number that has occurred. These incidents culminated last week in Robert Aaron Long shooting and killing eight people at three Atlanta-area massage parlor.

Your AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) employees are hurting. Here are some thoughts on how we, as their employers, can best support them. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

“Hairstyle discrimination” laws: a solution in search of a problem

I fully embrace the irony of a local news broadcast holding me out as the expert on hair discrimination. 👨🏻‍🦲

Irony notwithstanding, here I am on last night’s 6 o’clock news discussing why we don’t need to ban workplace hairstyle discrimination. (Big thank you to WEWS’s Mike Brookbank for reaching out and for the interview.)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Do you know what to do if ICE shows up at your business?

Last week, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested nearly 700 immigrants as part of a series of raids at work-sites throughout Mississippi. The raids are part of the Trump administration’s ongoing crackdown on illegal immigration.

What if ICE shows up at your business. Do you know what to do?

I’ve covered this topic previously. Given the recent news, It thought it was worth revisiting. You can read my thoughts here.

* Photo Courtesy of ICE. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Do you know? English-only workplace policies

White Americans, what?
Nothing better to do?
Why don't you kick yourself out?
You're an immigrant too!
– White Stripes, Icky Thump (2007).
Estefany Martinez-Gonzalez and Imelda Lucio Lopez, both crew members at a McDonald's restaurant, and both Hispanic, claimed that their employer discriminated against them by requiring them to speak English at work (as opposed to their native Spanish).

Thursday, April 5, 2018

In the era of #metoo, let’s not lose focus on the “me”s other than sex

Photo by Luke Braswell on Unsplash
We’ve all done a lot of talking over the past six months about sexual harassment. We should not forget, however, that our laws make harassment unlawful if it’s based on membership in any protected class.

A federal jury in Detroit just provided employers a very real reminder of this fact.

It tagged Ford Motor Co. with a $16.8 million verdict. The plaintiff, a former Ford engineer, proved that the automaker created a hostile work environment based his Arab background.

Monday, April 24, 2017

National origin discrimination laws don’t matter in Trump’s America

Last week, President Trump signed his “Buy American, Hire American“ Executive Order. The EO encourages American businesses to buy American-made products and hire American workers.

Come again? Does that say hire American workers? Doesn’t Title VII prohibit national origin discrimination?

Yes, Title VII still prohibits national origin discrimination. And, no, this Executive Order does nothing to change Title VII’s impact. But the manner in which the White House is promoting this EO is … curiously disturbing.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trump’s un-American travel ban and the workplace

I’ve had an internal debate all weekend long over whether I should blog about Trump’s executive order that that bans immigration from seven Muslim countries, suspends refugees for 120 days, and bars all Syrian refugees indefinitely. Ultimately, I decided that if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem, and this issue is too important to remain silent. I choose to be on the correct side of history.

If you are a staunch defender of the President who does not care to read an opposing view, I suggest you stop reading now, and come back tomorrow for a more benign post. Or, better yet, post a comment and let’s have an intelligent debate about this issue. And, if you choose to unfollow or unfriend me because of my opinion, you are more than welcome to do that too. This is still America, and I respect your right to have an opinion even if I disagree with it. I hope, however, that you show me and my opinion the same respect and patriotism that I would show you and yours.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

“Perceived” national origin discrimination may not be illegal, but…

Lost in the maelstrom of the last week’s FLSA overtime rule injunction was the news that the EEOC issued updated enforcement guidance on national origin discrimination.

The guidance, which replaces the EEOC’s older 2002 guidance and covers topic such as citizenship, language issues and English-only policies, and harassment, is recommended reading for all employers, as are the EEOC’s companion Q&A and small business fact sheet.

Let me point out, however, one area of contention—the issue of “perceived” national origin discrimination.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lessons from a job interview

Last week, Steven Colbert conducted a mock job interview for President Obama. During the course of the interview, he asked the President questions that referred both to his age and the national origin of his birth.


What lessons can employers learn from these few moments of late-night frivolity?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What you need to know about EEOC’s proposed national-origin-discrimination guidance

I had a post prepared in my brain about the EEOC’s recently published proposed Enforcement Guidance on National Origin Discrimination. And then Robin Shea beat me to the punch. So, instead of recreating the wheel, I am instead directing you to her always excellent Employment & Labor Insider blog, where she shares 25 quick takes (no kidding!) on the EEOC’s proposed guidance.

Monday, November 16, 2015

We stand with France; we stand against discrimination

Photo by Jon Hyman, 8/6/15

What happened Friday evening in France is unfathomable. Except, really, it isn’t. We experienced it 15 years ago in New York City. And, in the aftermath of 9/11, discrimination against Muslims and Arabs increased by 250 percent.

From the EEOC:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When English-only policies and federal labor law collide

It’s been nearly 8(!) years since I first wrote about the legality of English-only workplace rules. If you scan the archives, all of my coverage of this issue has focused on whether such policies discriminate on the basis of national origin in violation of Title VII.

Now the NLRB is attempting to interject itself into this debate.

Last month, in Valley Health System [pdf], an NLRB Administrative Law Judge concluded that a healthcare provider’s English-only rule violated employees’ rights to engage in protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act.

The policy in Valley Health System required that all employees speak and communicate only in English “when conducting business with each other,” “when patients or customers are present or in close proximity,” and “while on duty between staff, patients, visitors [and/or] customers … unless interpretation or translation is requested or required.”

The ALJ concluded:

Employees would reasonably construe [the] English-only rule to restrict them from engaging in concerted activity…. [The] English-only rule is vague as to time and location (i.e., must use English in patient and non-patient areas, in patient access areas, and between employees, staff, customers, patients and visitors), it infringes on an employee’s ability to freely discuss and communicate about work conditions, wages and other terms and conditions of employment.

What does this decision mean for your business?

  1. It is only one decision of one ALJ. It is not binding on the Board, and it is not the law of the land. However, given how broadly the NLRB currently is interpreting employees’ section 7 rights under facially neutral workplace policies, businesses should nevertheless pay close attention.

  2. It may not be sufficient that an English-only policy pass muster under Title VII as supported by a “business necessity.” Regardless of the business need for employees to communicate in English, a policy still may fall as unlawful if it prohibits or restricts employees from communicating about workplace terms and conditions.

Monday, December 8, 2014

1.2 million reasons to fight harassment

According to an EEOC press release, a Wyoming federal judge has approved a $1.2 million settlement with three well-servicing companies on behalf of a dozen employees who claimed that they suffered regular and repeated racially derogatory comments and jokes:

Employees regularly used terms like “wetback” and “beaner” to refer to Hispanic employees, “wagon burner” to refer to Native American employees, and the “N-word” to refer to black employees…. According to the EEOC’s amended complaint, minority employees on the rigs regularly heard racist terms … such as “n----r-rigging” and telling employees to “n----r a pipe down” were also common.

Said EEOC General Counsel David Lopez, “This type of outrageous discrimination sadly still exists. Employers in the oil and gas industry should heed this settlement and renew their efforts to ensure that employees are treated equally regardless of race or national origin.” EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill added, “The type of blatant racist conduct alleged in this case has no place in the workplace. We believe that our lawsuit and the significant relief obtained in this settlement will send the message, not only to the defendants, but to the entire industry that the EEOC will not this kind of misconduct - or retaliation for complaining about it.”

Over the past couple of weeks, our country has been hyper-focused on race. It’s pathetic that employees still have to suffer workplaces with any degree of racism. While I believe that not every mishandled situation is because of race, this EEOC settlement shows that we still have a ways to go with race relations, and employers that shirk or ignore their responsibilities in this regard do so at their peril.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

EEOC cracks down on employer’s "English-only" rule

The EEOC yesterday announced that it has filed a lawsuit against a Wisconsin metal and plastic products manufacturer, claiming that it fired a group of foreign employees because of their national origin. According to the lawsuit, each of the 10 fired employees received overall satisfactory ratings on their annual performance evaluations, but received mark-downs for their English skills, which the EEOC alleges were not needed to perform their jobs.

According to EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson:
Our experience at the EEOC has been that so-called “English only” rules and requirements of English fluency are often employed to make what is really discrimination appear acceptable. But superficial appearances are not fooling anyone. When speaking English fluently is not, in fact, required for the safe and effective performance of a job, nor for the successful operation of the employer’s business, requiring employees to be fluent in English usually constitutes employment discrimination on the basis of national origin—and thus violates federal law.
I initially addressed this issue almost seven(!) years ago in a post entitled, English-only workplaces spark lawsuits. English-only rules are legal as long as the employer can show a business need for the policy (for example, inter-employee communication or workplace safety). An overly restrictive rule (for example, prohibiting non-English-speaking in non-work areas such as the lunchroom), however, might violate Title VII’s prohibition against national origin discrimination. You can read my original post to learn the ins and outs of this interesting issue that has caught the EEOC’s attention.

In this case, the EEOC alleges that the employer penalized the employees for English fluency in non-essential functions. If you intend to enforce an English-only rule, make sure you can justify the nexus between English fluency and job performance. For example, would safety or efficiency be impacted if employees cannot communicate in English? Does the job require interaction with non-employees, such as vendors or customers? If you can demonstrate a nexus between English proficiency and essential job performance, your English-only policy will have a much greater chance of surviving EEOC scrutiny.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Social-cultural discrimination does not equal race discrimination

Does a policy that prohibits employees from wearing dreadlocks discriminate against African-Americans? According to one federal court, in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions [pdf], the answer is no.

CMS maintained the following policy, which it interpreted to prohibit employees from wearing dreadlocks:

All personnel are expected to be dressed and groomed in a manner that projects a professional and businesslike image while adhering to company and industry standards and/or guidelines … hairstyles should reflect a business/professional image. No excessive hairstyles or unusual colors are acceptable.

The EEOC claimed race discrimination following CMS’s rescission of a job offer after a job applicant refused to cut her dreadlocks. The court, however, disagreed, dismissing the EEOC’s lawsuit. The court made a key distinction between immutable, protected characteristics (such as race) and mutable, unprotected characteristics (such as hairstyle):

It has long been settled that employers’ grooming policies are outside the purview of Title VII…. The EEOC asserts that the policy itself was discriminatory because it was interpreted to prohibit dreadlocks, which is a hairstyle. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics, such as race, sex, color, or national origin. A hairstyle, even one more closely associated with a particular ethnic group, is a mutable characteristic….

The court also refused to take the EEOC’s bait to equate culture to race:

According to the EEOC, the definition of race should encompass both physical and cultural characteristics, even when those cultural characteristics are not unique to a particular group. But as the defendant points out, to define race by non-unique cultural characteristics could lead to absurd results. For instance, a policy prohibiting dreadlocks would not apply to African Americans but would apply to whites. Moreover, culture and race are two distinct concepts….

Title VII does not protect against discrimination based on traits, even a trait that has a socio-cultural racial significance.

I’ve discussed dreadlock discrimination before, but in the context of religious discrimination. In this context, the court got this case 100% correct. Dreadlocks are not a “black” thing. Heck, if you saw any of the photos of 2011’s Occupy Wall Street movement, I can guarantee that you saw lots of photos of white folks with dreadlocks. Nevertheless, this case serves a good reminder that grooming policies remain high on the EEOC’s radar, even if they raise much more of an issue for national origin and religion than race.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

EEOC tackles national-origin discrimination

Have you seen the story about the employee at an Ephrata, Washington, Burger King, fired for posting, “Now Hiring Must Be Mexican” on the store’s marquee?

This story is particularly timely, since last week, the EEOC held a public meeting addressing issues with national-origin discrimination. 

The seven speakers highlighted various issues, including the plight of immigrants, harassment, English-only policies, and the challenges facing multi-cultural workplaces. 

America’s workforce will continue to personify our melting-pot moniker. Employers need to u detests nd and pay attention to these issues of national-origin discrimination, if for no other reason than the fact that the EEOC is watching, and litigating enforcement actions when necessary. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Relying on stereotypes will put a target on your back

According to The Huffington Post, a group of Hispanic employees is suing Target for national origin discrimination. Their evidence—an internal memo that included the following “Multi-Cultural Tips” for its managers:

a. Food: not everyone eats tacos and burritos;

b. Music: not everyone dances to salsa;

c. Dress: not everyone wears a sombrero;

d. Mexicans (lower education level, some may be undocumented);

e. Cubans (Political refugees, legal status, higher education level); and

f. They may say ‘OK, OK’ and pretend to understand, when they do not, just to save face.

That’s a pretty good smoking gun, if you ask me.

It served as a good reminder about the dangers of stereotypes in the workplace.

There is no hiding that stereotypes—both positive and negative—exist. To some degree we all harbor them (and anyone who tells you differently is lying to you and themselves). The better job you do of insulating your business’s personnel decisions from stereotypes, the less often you will find yourself in need of my services—which is a positive stereotype you can embrace.

This post originally appeared on The Legal Workplace Blog.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Can you ban foreign languages in the workplace? English-only policies.

USA Today reports that Whole Foods has suspended two employees for allegedly speaking Spanish to each other on the job. For its part, Whole Foods denies the claim, and insists that it suspended the employees for “rude and disrespectful behavior.”

Regardless of who is correct, in our increasingly multi-cultural country, this story begs the questions of how, when, and why is a company permitted to limit languages spoken in the workplace.

I initially addressed this issue almost six(!) years ago in a post entitled, English-only workplaces spark lawsuits. In that post, I made the point that English-only rules are legal as long as the employer can show a business need for the policy (for example, inter-employee communication or workplace safety). An overly restrictive rule (for example, prohibiting non-English-speaking in non-work areas such as the lunchroom), however, might violate Title VII’s prohibition against national origin discrimination. You can read my original post to learn the ins and outs of this interesting and seldom litigated issue.

According to the USA Today story, Whole Foods’s “policy states that all English speaking team members must speak English to customers and other team members while on the clock” and that “team members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods, and before and after work.” To me, that policy is perfectly legal under Title VII, and should raise no issues for the employer, even if it disciplined these two employees for speaking Spanish on the shop floor.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Controlling the comparative can control the discrimination case

One of the key analyses in any discrimination lawsuit is whether the plaintiff is “similarly situated” to those whom he or she claims the employer treated more favorably. If the plaintiff can establish disparate treatment of those “similarly situated,” he or she can make out a prima facie case and proceed to the discrimination bonus round to prove that the employer’s legitimate non-discriminatory reason was a pretext. Conversely, a failure to prove “similarly situated” dooms a claim to the summary judgment scrapheap.

Louzon v. Ford Motor Co. (6/4/13) [pdf] illustrates the important role a determination of “similarly situated” plays in discrimination cases.

Moien Louzon, a product engineer at Ford, took an approved leave of absence to visit family in Gaza. While abroad, Israel closed its borders, stranding Louzon in Gaza. Ford initially extended his leave of absence, but by the time the State Department could evacuate him, the extension had expired and Ford had terminated him.

In Louzon’s subsequent national-origin discrimination lawsuit, Ford filed a motion in limine, which sought to precluded Louzon from offering at trial any evidence of comparable employees on the basis that none were similarly situated as a matter of law. The district court granted Ford’s motion and, on its own accord, granted summary judgment to Ford and dismissed Louzon’s case.

The appellate opinion dealt with two issues — one procedural and one substantive.

  • Procedurally, the court decided that the district court had improperly decided a non-evidentiary issue via the motion in limine — whether there existed any comparable employees similarly situated to Louzon. A motion in limine is a procedural mechanism to decide evidentiary issues before trial. The trial court, however, used it to decide a disputed legal issue at the heart of the case. By doing so, it treated the motion in limine as a motion for summary judgment, but without providing Louzon the procedural protections in place in responding to a summary judgment motion. The court made is clear that litigants cannot use motions in limine to get a second bite at the summary judgment apple.
  • Substantively, the court took up the issue of whether the trial court correctly determined that there did not exist any comparable employees similarly situated to Louzon. The court was concerned over the district court’s reliance on an outdated rule that mandated that comparative employees share the same supervisor. Instead, the 6th Circuit clarified that in determining whether employees are similarly situated, a court must “make an independent determination as to the relevancy of a particular aspect of the plaintiff’s employment status and that of the non-protected employee.” Merely examining whether there exists a shared supervisor is too narrow of a standard.

Similarly situated lies in the eyes of the beholder. How a court frames who is, and who is not, “similarly situated” can be dispositive of the issue of discrimination. For this reason, it is wise to examine any potential similarly situated employees for similar or dissimilar treatment under like circumstances before taking action against a protected employee.