EEOC sues over - get this - "Spanish-only" policy

Louise Davies is an Affirmative Action Paralegal in Constangy's Winston-Salem, North Carolina, office. For more than 15 years, she has helped employers develop affirmative action plans and respond to audits and on-site investigations by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. She also conducts diversity training for employers. Louise is a graduate of Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.

You've heard of "English-only" policies, but here is a new one.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit last week against a Houston-area company for allegedly requiring applicants to be of Hispanic national origin and to speak Spanish.

The EEOC is claiming race and national origin discrimination based on a "pattern or practice," as well as disparate impact. The lawsuit alleges that Champion Fiberglass, Inc., a manufacturer of fiberglass conduit, struts, and hangers used in the electrical and mechanical markets, rejected applicants for laborer positions who were not Hispanic and did not speak Spanish. The suit also alleges that the company used word-of-mouth recruiting almost exclusively.

According to the lawsuit, non-Hispanic laborers are significantly underrrepresented in the company, and the Spanish language requirement is not job-related or consistent with business necessity.

The company has not yet responded to the lawsuit, so it is unclear what defenses it will assert. Certainly, there are occasions when the ability to speak multiple languages is job-related, and perhaps this was the basis for the company's search for Spanish-speaking applicants. It is also possible that the company will deny that it engaged in these practices at all.

The lawsuit began with a charge of discrimination filed by Freddie Foster, who is African-American. Mr. Foster alleged that Champion refused to even give him an application because he did not speak Spanish. The EEOC found reasonable cause and alleges that it tried unsuccessfully to conciliate with Champion before filing suit.

The EEOC seeks an injunction prohibiting the discriminatory practices and is seeking back pay and compensatory and punitive damages on behalf of a class of prospective non-Hispanic laborer applicants.

In the past, the EEOC has challenged the discriminatory effects of English-only policies and practices, but suing on the basis of a "no-English" policy is uncommon.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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