The settlement is the largest for a workplace language discrimination case both in the U.S. west coast and the country’s healthcare service. It is also the largest language rights settlement ever secured by APALC.
The landmark victory was achieved by APALC, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of 69 Filipino American hospital employees who were subject to national origin discrimination and harassment when the hospital singled them out for enforcement of an unlawful English only policy in violation of federal and state law.
The Delano Regional Medical Center (DRMC), a hospital in California’s Central Valley, agreed to settle the case by paying the victims a total of 975,000 dollars.
“We believe DRMC enforced an overly restrictive English only policy against its Filipino American employees and created a workplace environment that was hostile toward them,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director at APALC.
“This settlement will send a strong message to employers that it is illegal to target workers based on their national origin and will hopefully encourage more Asian American and immigrant workers to speak out when their rights are violated, like our brave clients did,” Hoq added.
The settlement also imposes on the hospital a three-year Consent Decree which prohibits it from engaging in the kind of alleged discrimination and harassment that gave rise to the lawsuit and institutes a new Language Policy that acknowledges the value of the hospital’s diverse work force and allows employees the dignity to speak the language of their choice in appropriate circumstances.
The Consent Decree also requires the hospital to hire an external Equal Employment Opportunity monitor to ensure compliance with its terms, as well as train all staff to comply with equal employment laws and the new Language Policy.
The federal lawsuit began in August 2010 when the EEOC sued Defendants Central California Foundation for Health/Delano Regional Medical Center and Delano Health Associates, Inc. for harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
In January 2011, APALC intervened in the suit on behalf of more than 40 plaintiff-intervenors who filed additional claims under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, including a claim that the hospital’s English only policy was unlawful.
Beginning in 2006 the hospital singled out Filipino American employees and prohibited them from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages at the hospital – including in break rooms, the cafeteria and in hallways – but did not impose the same requirements on other bilingual staff, according to the lawsuit.
Despite having an ethnically diverse workforce, Defendants allegedly required only Filipino American employees to attend mandatory meetings where DRMC management told them that they were prohibited from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages at the workplace, threatened to monitor them with audio surveillance, deputized all hospital employees to prevent them from speaking Tagalog, and threatened to discipline and suspend employees who were cited for speaking Tagalog.
The lawsuit alleged that the hospital’s selective and discriminatory enforcement of the policy created an intolerable work environment for Filipino staff, who were monitored and chastised by supervisors and co-workers who constantly told them to speak English, ridiculed their accents, and humiliated them in front of their fellow employees.
The hospital allegedly failed to take adequate measures to stop or prevent Filipino employees from being harassed, even after more than 100 Filipino employees complained about discrimination and harassment in a petition they submitted to DRMC management.