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Language discrimination on the rise in the U.S., EEOC claims

Thousands of workers are employed in San Diego, and many of them come from different ethnic backgrounds and speak different languages. Because the workplace can be so diverse, employers need to be sure their workplaces are tolerant of other cultures in order to avoid discrimination on the basis of national origin.

Though clear communication may be challenging to achieve at all times in the workplace because of language barriers or accents, discrimination against workers who have trouble speaking English or who have thick accents should not be tolerated. If this behavior is tolerated, California employers could possibly face discrimination lawsuits.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discrimination complaints from workers with accents and those who have trouble speaking English are on the rise and have risen by 76 percent since 1997.

Throughout the country, immigrants are claiming to be harassed, demoted or wrongfully terminated because they have trouble speaking English or have an accent that may not be easy to understand by other workers.

For example, a discrimination lawsuit filed by a Russian immigrant claims he was fired for his accent while working for FedEx. Allegedly, a weigh station in another state filed a warning about his speech to the company, who in turn terminated him. FedEx, however, claims the man was cited and fired for failing to abide by safety rules.

With the number of non-English speaking employees on the rise, some advocates of civil rights claim hostile environments are becoming more common, too. Also on the rise are large settlements stemming from these types of discrimination cases.

To help stop discrimination due to one's national origin or ability to speak English, the EEOC is requiring employers to make sure workers are not being treated unfairly simply because it may be a little difficult to understand workers who have accents. When one's English-speaking skills do interfere with his or her ability to adequately perform job duties, though, employers may be able to legally terminate or demote the worker.

Source: Associated Press, "Feds say workplace discrimination complaints rising over language ability, foreign accents," Paul Foy, Nov. 29, 2012