APALC and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced on September 17th a landmark settlement of $975,000 against Delano Regional Medical Center, a hospital in California’s Central Valley. The case was brought 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 settlement is the largest settlement for a workplace language discrimination case in the West Coast and the largest settlement for a workplace language discrimination case in the Healthcare Industry in the United States. It is also the largest language rights settlement ever secured by APALC.
“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.”
“We were honored to represent and support the Filipino workers who stood up for their rights in this case in partnership with the EEOC. We want the Asian American community to know that as in this case, APALC will continue to defend employees when their civil rights are violated,” added APALC Staff Attorney Carmina Ocampo, a Filipino American attorney who also serves on the board of the Pilipino Workers’ Center.
In addition to the monetary relief, the settlement 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. (DRMC) for harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In January 2011, APALC intervened in the suit.
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.
“Many of the Filipino nurses, including myself, worked at DRMC for decades. We loved our jobs and always gave outstanding care to our patients, and it was humiliating to be harassed and singled out by DRMC,” said Plaintiff Wilma Lamug, a licensed vocational nurse who worked at DRMC for more than 10 years. “We sought help from APALC and the EEOC because we wanted to fight for our rights after DRMC ignored our petition. I feel happy that this case has been settled. We wanted to be free from discrimination and APALC and the EEOC helped us fight for justice. We hope that this case will serve as a model to others. Workers deserve respect as human beings and deserve to be treated fairly.”
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