It’s oft repeated that you should learn to speak the local language in order to get a good job in your location of choice. Whether that’s Spanish in Mexico, French in France or English in the United States, knowing the local language has a number of advantages in the workplace. However, what if we’re not talking about a good white-collar job, career advancement or ideal conditions? Do you truly need to speak English to work in the United States? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says no.
Recently the EEOC took action against the company Wisconsin Plastics Inc., filing a suit claiming discrimination based on national origin. At issue is Wisconsin Plastics’ 2012 firing of 19 Hmong workers and 3 Hispanic workers. The company dismissed the employees because they did not possess fluent English-language skills. (Although that makes me wonder why that suddenly became a problem for the company. The 22 were already hired and working for the company after all.) However, the EEOC says that if a job doesn’t actually require the use of English-language skills for reasons of safety, effectiveness or successful performance of the job, then an English-only policy or English-language requirement is equivalent to discrimination based on national origin. In anti-discrimination law, national origin protection extends to linguistic characteristics. The EEOC has commented that English-only requirements have been used to justify discrimination based on national origin. However, Wisconsin Plastics claims that is not the case here.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission invited the company to resolve the matter on its own, but they did not reach a satisfactory conclusion. So now the EEOC is taking the matter to court with a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Should Wisconsin Plastics have fired those employees? Why or why not?