The EEOC filed suit recently in the United Stated District Court for the Southern District of Texas alleging that an employer discriminated against non-Hispanic applicants by requiring that they be Spanish-speaking. See EEOC v. Champion Fiberglass, Inc., Civil Action No. 4:17-cv-2226. A copy of the Complaint can be viewed here. The EEOC alleges that this requirement has resulted in statistically significant underrepresentation of non-Hispanics in the employer’s workforce. While this case is only in its early stage, employers should understand the EEOC’s position which can be summarized as follows:
1. Rules must be justified as a business necessity.
2. Rules should be limited to ensuring that employers can operate safely and efficiently.
3. Language control rules that extend to lunchtime and breaks rarely are justified.
4. Rules controlling English (or other language) speaking may be justified for:
a. communications with customers or co-workers who only speak that language;
b. emergencies or other situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety;
c. cooperative work assignments in which the language is needed to promote efficiency.
5. Employers may not take disciplinary action against an employee for violating the rule unless the employer has notified workers about the rule and the consequences for violating it.
The EEOC has recently undertaken investigations of such rules even after parties have entered into a private settlement. Employers are encouraged to review their language policies to determine if they are in compliance with EEOC guidelines.