PNAA Position Statement: English-only Rule in the Workplace

The Philippine Nurses Association of America (PNAA) strongly advocates for a workplace environment that supports the integration of human rights principle of equality and non-discrimination:  All individuals are equal as human beings and by virtue of the inherent dignity of each human person. No one, therefore, should suffer discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, gender, age, language, sexual orientation, religion, political or other opinion, national, social or geographical origin, disability, birth or other status as established by human rights standards.

PNAA commends the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) position on behalf of a class of approximately 70 Filipino-American hospital workers in Delano Regional Medical Center (DRMC), an acute care hospital in California’s San Joaquin Village.

PNAA recommends that the adoption and implementation of the English-only rule by a healthcare organization should address the following:
Promote diversity in the workplace and recognize that many employees speak multiple languages. Employees have the right to communicate with each other in a language of their choice when not engaged in direct communication with, or while providing care and services, to a patient.

Include English-only Policy as part of the orientation process at the beginning of employment for all employees. Use of the rule should identify specific circumstances or situations where business necessity to speak English-only is clearly delineated and identified i.e. patient care areas (nursing station, patient rooms, hospital hallway/elevators) versus non-patient care areas (break rooms, bathroom, parking garage).  Progressive discipline policy for non-compliance should be clear.

Develop and implement educational programs and acculturation support for foreign-educated nurse for professional development and increase teamwork as part of Human Resources Department’s initiative.

A group of Filipino nurses who alleged that they were the targets of harassing comments, undue scrutiny and discipline particularly when speaking with a Filipino accent or in Filipino languages, like Tagalog or Ilocano won a nearly $1-million settlement against a Central California hospital on September 17, 2012.  The hostile work environment stemmed from a 2006 meeting in which the chief executive officer and hospital management called only Filipino-American staff to a meeting and threatened them about the consequences of not complying with the hospital’s English-only language policy, including the installation of surveillance equipment to monitor their conversations.  No other groups were targeted in the meeting.  The policy allegedly required employees to speak in English except when speaking to a patient with other language needs or during break time.

Rather than enforcing the policy with all staff, the EEOC asserted that solely Filipino-American staff was disciplined for alleged infractions and constantly monitored for enforcement of the policy.  Non-Filipino staff who routinely spoke languages other than English – such as Spanish – on the job were not disciplined or harassed as a result.  Ultimately, about 115 Filipino-American workers signed a petition reporting the discrimination and harassment to top-level hospital management.  However, hospital management continuously failed to investigate the allegations or take any action to stop it for an extensive period of time thereafter.

The EEOC filed suit against the hospital in August 2010 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California (EEOC v. Central Foundation for Health d/b/a Delano Regional Medical Center, Case No. 10-CV-01492-LJO-JLT).  The EEOC argued that this conduct violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Thereafter, on Jan. 18, 2011, APALC partnered with the EEOC, intervening in the EEOC’s lawsuit and bringing forth its own lawsuit on behalf of several more alleged victims.

As part of the settlement, the parties entered into a three-year consent decree requiring DRMC to pay $975,000 in monetary relief, to develop strong protocols for handling harassment and discrimination, and to adopt a language policy that complies with Title VII.  The hospital further agreed to hire an EEO monitor to assist Delano to comply with the terms of the agreement; to revise policies and procedures; and, to conduct anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all staff with additional training for supervisors.  The hospital will submit reports to the EEOC and will post a notice on the matter.  The EEOC will monitor compliance with the consent decree.

Prepared by:
Dr Germina Risos-Rio, PNAA Legislative Chair, 9/20/12
Collaborated by:
Victoria Navarro, PNAA President
Marife Sevilla, PNAA Human Rights Committee Chair
Lourdes Nisperos, PNAA VP Western Region
Rosario-May Mayor, PNAA Past President
Reviewed by:
Arnedo Valera, ESQ, Legal Counsel
Related Past Action:
PNAA Policy Statement on the English-only Rule in the Workplace, 7/13/2010

Reference:  U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Endorsed by:  PNAA Executive Board (pending),PNAA Cabinet Members (pending), PNAA Legislative Committee Members: Dr. Marife Aczon-Armstrong (WR), Erlinda Gonzales (NCR), Nelson Tuazon (SCR), Marissa Usman (ER), and PNAA Human Rights Committee Members

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