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Workers face discrimination due to native language and accents

This day and age, it would be nice to hear that discrimination in employment is finally decreasing. Unfortunately, a recent report found the opposite. A certain type of discrimination is experiencing a sharp increase, suggesting that as the workforce is becoming more diverse here in Texas and across the country, people are becoming less tolerant.

Workplace discrimination on the basis of national origin has risen as much as 76 percent from 1997 to 2011, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. More than 11,800 national origin discrimination claims were filed in 2011, many of them involving harassment based on English-language skills or accents. Of course, there are also many instances of this type of discrimination that are unreported.

While this type of discrimination appears to be happening more frequently, it does also appear that courts are frequently ruling in favor of the victims, which is a clear reminder that these actions are illegal and employers can be held financially accountable.

There have been several cases where workers have won large settlements after their employers reprimanded them for not speaking English at work, for example. In one new case, a Russian immigrant was fired by FedEx when a weigh station gave his employer a warning about his accent.

Truck drivers do have to be able to communicate in English in order to hold a commercial driver's license, making this one of the few fields where it is possible for employers to have an English requirement. English-only workplace policies are only legal when English is necessary for business reasons, but even then it is generally illegal to retaliate against workers for speaking other languages when the communication does not involve a job task.

The FedEx driver has filed a lawsuit against his employer arguing that he can communicate in English well enough to hold the driver's license and do the job, and that he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin.

It is important that workers stand up for their rights and seek to hold employers legally accountable for discrimination. This is an important step in changing the culture of workplace discrimination and in remedying the wrong that workers have suffered.

Source: Insurance Journal, "More Workers Claiming Job Discrimination Over Language, Accents," Paul Foy, Dec. 4, 2012

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