National Origin Discrimination Cited in EEOC Lawsuit Against Employer Who Terminated Employees for Lacking English Skills

In a recent press release, the EEOC announced that it has filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin Plastics, Inc., a metal and plastic manufacturer, for alleged national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The lawsuit alleges that the employer terminated a group of Hmong and Hispanic employees based on 10-minute observations that marked them down for their English skills, even though those skills were not needed to perform their jobs. All of the employees terminated had received satisfactory ratings on their annual performance evaluations while employed by the Defendant.

The linguistic characteristics of a national origin group are protected by Title VII. The EEOC Press Release states:

“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,” said EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson. “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.”

The lawsuit, EEOC v. Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. (Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-00663) was filed in the Wisconsin Eastern District Federal Court.

Laconic Lesson: Get legal advice before adopting an English-only policy or taking adverse action against employees based on their English-language skills!