A recent case out of New York once again highlights the illegality of English-only rules and hostile work environments based on nationality. A New York pizzeria allegedly subjected its Hispanic employees to derogatory name calling and other slurs, as well as imposing a rule that employees only speak English in the workplace, with no legitimate business reason.
National origin discrimination is illegal
Under the federal statute known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It is also unlawful to retaliation against someone because they complain about such discrimination, file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and participate in a discrimination investigation or lawsuit. Title VII also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for religious practices that are “sincerely held,” as long it the accommodation would not create an undue hardship on the employer’s business.
The EEOC's opinion regarding English-Only workplace policies
Despite the fact that many people assume an English-only workplace policy would be per se discrimination, it is not expressly prohibited by Title VII. Nevertheless, the EEOC has taken the position that these types of policies lead to discrimination based on national origin, which is of course illegal. The EEOC has established, under 29 C.F.R. § 1606.7, that English-only policies are presumptively a form of national origin discrimination. As the EEOC recognizes in its published regulations, "the primary language of an individual is often an essential national origin characteristic."
Antonella’s Restaurant & Pizzeria Settles the National Origin Suit for $50,000
The small group of pizzeria restaurants based in New York have agreed to pay $50,000, as well as other relief to settle the national origin discrimination lawsuit. Specifically, the consent decree requires the company to incorporate significant safeguards that will prevent similar discrimination in the future, including anti-discrimination policies, training, and other remedial procedures.
EEOC’s Guidance on National Origin Discrimination in Employment
Very recently, the EEOC published new enforcement guidelines regarding national origin discrimination. The purpose of this new guidance is to address the more current cultural issues and developments in the law relative to national origin.
EEOC New York District Director pleased with Antonella settlement
EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein said he was “pleased that because of this settlement, Antonella's will institute policies that were previously missing and may assist in preventing future discrimination.” According to the EEOC New York District Director Kevin Berry, "this case exemplifies the EEOC's commitment to enforcing our laws when
employers discriminate against any employees, including especially vulnerable, low-wage workers in a restaurant kitchen."
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!