New regulations addressing national origin discrimination under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) go into effect on July 1, 2018 – are you ready? The regulations expand the definition of “national origin,” make language restrictions presumptively unlawful, and limit an employer’s ability to verify immigration status, among other significant changes. Continue Reading California’s New Regulations Expand National Origin Protections
The EEOC recently settled a national origin discrimination case involving a “restrictive language policy” or “English-only rule.” EEOC v. Mesa Systems, Inc., 2:11-cv-01201 (D. Utah 2013). The employer agreed to pay $450,000.00 and to provide a variety of injunctive relief, including training, policy revisions, apologies, notice postings, and reporting to the EEOC. The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan made it a priority to protect the most “vulnerable workers,” and Commissioner Jacqueline Berrien said the settlement is an important demonstration of a “renewed commitment” to that goal. And, indeed: this settlement is the latest in a decade-long line of EEOC enforcement actions based on English-only rules. See, e.g.: $2.44 million settlement with University of Incarnate Word (2001); $700,000 settlement with Premier Operator Services, Inc. (2000).
During the past 50 years, the American workforce has changed drastically. One of the most noticeable changes has been the absorption of immigrants into the workforce who do not speak English as their first language.
In response to the increased linguistic diversity of the workforce, many employers have implemented policies that limit or completely prohibit their employees from speaking languages other than English while at work. These so called “English-only” polices may violate the national origin protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers that implement these policies are at risk of being sued not only by employees who feel wronged by the policy, but also by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.