Stuart J. Ishimaru, the Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), has called for a close examination of English-fluency employment tests and English-only work rules to determine if they are being used as a subterfuge for national origin discrimination. Commissioner Ishimaru indicated that he was becoming increasingly concerned about the use of language-based work rules to discriminate against job applicants based on their place of birth, ancestry, culture, or native language. For this reason, Englishonly rules and potential discrimination based on a person’s accent were becoming a “hot topic” as the agency examines trends in the workplace.
Commissioner Ishimaru conceded that “political forces” were seeking to limit the EEOC’s ability to bring cases in this area. Last year, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced an amendment to the EEOC’s appropriations bill that would have reduced the funding available for these cases. At the same time, Commissioner Ishimaru noted that the percentage of workers in the American workplace that speak a language other than English was growing. According to the EEOC, too many employers are responding to these trends by adopting policies that illegally seek to limit the use of foreign languages in the workplace. Commissioner Ishimaru reminded employers that English-only rules can be adopted solely for nondiscriminatory reasons.