- A San Antonio, Texas, spa has agreed to pay more than $2.6 million to settle claims that it barred staff from speaking Spanish on site, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- EEOC alleged in a lawsuit that a manager called Spanish a "foul language" and that when Hispanic employees raised concerns, the employer retaliated against some by demoting and firing them and replacing them with non-Hispanic employees.
- In addition to the monetary settlement, the consent decree requires that the employer revise its policies regarding the use of languages other than English in the workplace and provide training to employees informing them of their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Rules requiring that employees speak English in the workplace at all times are presumed to violate Title VII, the EEOC has said in a guidance, unless the employer provides advance notice of the rule and can show that it is justified by business necessity. The rule can apply, for example, in emergencies or situations where a common language will promote safety.
As a result, an English-only rule should be narrowly drawn and closely tethered to interests of safety and efficiency, Michael Studenka, partner at Newmeyer & Dillion LLP, told HR Dive via email in a previous interview. For example, an English-only ruled should not be applied to a break area or a lunchroom setting.
Notably, language discrimination suits, which are a subset of national origin discrimination claims, are on the upswing. And some have been successful in challenging these employer policies, Kenneth M. Willner, a partner with Paul Hastings LLP, told attendees at a National Employment Law Institute conference in 2018.