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Accent-related discrimination suits on the rise, says EEOC

Suits based on national origin, including language ability, rose 76 percent from 1997 to 2011

Earlier this month, we told you about a truck driver who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against FedEx, claiming the company caused him to lose his job because of his Russian accent.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), such suits aren’t so rare.

Workplace discrimination complaints based on national origin, including those involving language ability, increased by 76 percent from 1997 to 2011, according to the EEOC. The agency says the trend reflects a more ethnically diverse labor force.

Civil rights advocates say workplaces have become more hostile toward workers who don’t speak perfect English.

“There’s definitely a climate of fear that’s bad for everyone,” John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told Insurance Journal.

Some workers have won large settlements in accent-related lawsuits. Earlier this year, an Iraqi hotel worker in Phoenix won a $500,000 settlement from the Four Points Sheraton. He claimed his co-workers mocked his accent and called him derogatory names. According to the EEOC, the worker’s managers didn’t take his complaints seriously, which made his workplace situation intolerable.

In a similar case, dozens of Filipino hospital workers in California won a $1 million settlement from the Delano Regional Medical Center. The plaintiffs claimed their co-workers harassed and reprimanded them for speaking with an accent or in their native language.

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Contributing Author

Ashley Post

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