- A plant manager at Porous Materials, Inc. (PMI) forbade employees from speaking languages other than English, in violation of Title VII, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has alleged in a lawsuit.
- The employer subjected its employees to "an ugly mix of sexism, racism, and xenophobia," EEOC said in a statement announcing the suit. According to the commission, a plant manager for the Ithaca, New York, company complained that he was "'sick' of immigrants stealing American jobs and not speaking English, forbade employees from speaking other languages, and urged immigrant employees to leave America." He also used racial slurs, made sexist comments and subjected employees to unwanted sexual advances, according to EEOC.
- "The company owner, rather than putting a stop to this, behaved similarly; he called female employees 'dumb women,' complained that 'these women can't do anything,' and told a woman she would not be getting a raise because of her sex," the commission said.
English-only rules continue to drive national origin discrimination claims, Kenneth M. Willner, a partner with Paul Hastings LLP, told attendees at a recent conference.
A rule banning other languages will often be discriminatory, according to EEOC, but can be used in very specific circumstances. If it is communicated in advance and narrowly tailored to meet business necessity, it's possible to implement one without running afoul of the law, experts say. But even then, employers who adopt these policies should be sensitive to the needs of staff members, Michael Studenka, partner at Newmeyer & Dillion LLP, previously told HR Dive. "This is all part of respecting diversity in the workplace," he said; "It should be raised in any diversity training, especially with managers so that they avoid unknowingly overstepping here, for example, telling an employee on break in the kitchen that he must speak English."
Willner offered similar advice: "I would say they should be narrowly tailored and not overly broad and not applied to jobs where not really necessary." Such policies, even in customer contact positions, have been challenged and have sometimes not survived, because some customers might not speak English or other employees might understand another language better, he said; "that’s an area to tread lightly in."