A California hospital has agreed to pay a $975,000 settlement in a harassment and discrimination case that alleged the employer created a hostile work environment for Filipino staff members.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center sued Delano, California-based Delano Regional Medical Center in 2010 in U.S. District Court. The EEOC said the hospital's English-only language policy was used to harass and discriminate against Filipino employees in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The case involved claims from about 70 current and former Filipino employees who said they were taunted and threatened by non-Filipino employees for speaking Tagalog or other Filipino languages while working at Delano.
In 2006, Delano's CEO and management held a meeting exclusively for Filipino and Filipino-American employees regarding the health system's English-only policy, according to a statement Sept. 17 from the EEOC. The policy required workers to speak English at all times at work, except during breaks or while working with non-English-speaking patients.
For years after that point, EEOC said that the hospital and its policy encouraged employees to act as "vigilantes" in reprimanding and reporting Filipino employees who spoke Tagalog or Ilocano on the job. While Filipino employees were disciplined for allegedly violating the language policy, the EEOC said that workers who spoke Spanish and other languages on the job were not disciplined.
Although language policies are not illegal, the EEOC contends that such rules must have a business justification and cannot be used to target specific workers, said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC District Office in Los Angeles.
"Under federal law, the EEOC takes the position that if it's a draconian policy where you must speak English all the time, not exempting out down time or time on your own, that we believe is ... discriminatory," she said during a press conference Monday.
Elnora Cayme, a class member who spoke during the press conference, said she and other Filipino employees were harassed by co-workers and received complaints about their accents even while speaking English on the job.
"I always felt like people were following and watching us," she said.
In addition to the settlement payment announced Sept. 17, Delano entered into a three-year consent decree with the EEOC to develop anti-discrimination procedures. The health system also must hire an equal employment opportunity compliance monitor.