The EEOC conducted a public meeting yesterday on national origin employment discrimination.  Noting the diversity in the US workplace (including language diversity), and the increase of immigrants in the workforce, the panelists discussed “various recruitment and hiring issues; discriminatory treatment in assignments; pay discrimination; language and accent issues; effective communication and access issues; harassment; and retaliation.”  Panelists included attorneys for Mexican American and Asian American advocacy groups and attorneys for employee and employer groups. 17320260_s

We have noted many times that the EEOC is already targeting with lawsuits employers who discriminate and allow harassment of “vulnerable workers,” such as migrant farm workers, and this was underscored yesterday.

EEOC Commissioner Jenny R. Yang said that “National origin discrimination — whether it takes the form of harassment against farm workers, segregation of Vietnamese workers in lower-paying factory jobs, or not hiring a qualified applicant from Iran because she didn’t conform to a retailer’s preferred image — should be tackled through coordinated enforcement, outreach, and training efforts.”

An EEOC press release commented that the testimony of the Deputy Director of The National Employment Law Project (NELP) described national origin discrimination as “different from other forms of discrimination because it involves not only a person’s place of birth or origin of ancestors, but also cultural or linguistic characteristics.”  Moreover, retaliation against such employees may include the “devastating” use of the “deportation card” – “when individuals are threatened with deportation or examination of their immigration status as a threat to keep them from complaining about discrimination.”

One panelist on behalf of Mexican-Americans described a common complaint of bilingualism creating workplace segregation.  The subject of English-only policies led to a request that the EEOC create clear guidelines, and a management attorney complained that “my clients have a hard time understanding why people who are capable of speaking English, who are bilingual, should have the right to do so, to speak their own language in the worklace.”

The EEOC release said that an Ogletree management attorney described “The multi-cultural workplace [which] presents challenges for employers. … Cultural norms in an employee’s background may make it difficult for a man to accept supervision from a woman for example. [He] cited the need for extensive education about both rights and responsibilities under the law. He suggested that the EEOC develop training modules in a variety of languages as well as a model anti-harassment policy, and make them available on its website for employers to download.”

Employers beware:  we predict a slew of new suits in this area.

See the panelists’ statements, biographies and a transcript of the meeting at: