By: Jose Todith Garcia, Esq.
A Filipino nurse is forbidden from speaking Tagalog in the hospital where she works.
A computer programmer from India is given a salary that is 20% less than what his American counterparts receives.
A 50-year old Caucasian job applicant is rejected for being too old.
A Muslim ladys job promotion is turned down because of her religious beliefs.
Yes, it happens all the time. Workplace discrimination is so rampant that the federal government has put in place a system for avoiding one. The law is clear: It is illegal to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, gender, or physical disability. There are exemptions, but these are very limited.
Discrimination is against the law, and the penalties are punitive.
So stiff that in February 1999, a nursing home in Gladstone, Missouri (Woodbine Healthcare Center) agreed to pay a total of $2.8 million to settle an EEOC lawsuit involving 65 Filipino nurses, who were assigned to work as nurse aides despite being petitioned as RNs. Those given RN jobs were paid less than their American counterparts.
This was by far the largest employment-related discrimination case involving Filipinos to date. It wasnt the last, however.
Recently, a couple of Filipino nurses from the Washington, D.C. area were awarded an undisclosed amount by their former employer (Bon Secours Hospital) as a result of an EEOC investigation. The discriminatory act? The nurses were not allowed to speak Tagalog during their lunch breaks. Lest anyone be confused, however, the same was not ruled an act of discrimination per se. Discrimination was found because the employer did not impose a similar policy against other nationalities in the workplace.
In another case, decided August 2010, a California-based aircraft services company (Mercury Air Centers, Inc.) agreed to settle a $600,000 discrimination lawsuit in which at least seven employees, including a Filipino, were allegedly subjected to “a barrage of harassing comments” by another employee, who was promoted to a supervisory position despite the victims complaints against the latter. Coddling a “harasser” is, therefore, an act of discrimination, according to the ruling in this case.
Prior to this, in November of 2008, the EEOC obtained a race and national origin discrimination judgment against a Nevada U-Haul company for discriminating against Filipino and Hispanic workers. Not only were the victims subjected to derogatory slurs, i.e., “go back to Mexico,” the victims were also told that they had to be “White to get ahead.” Indeed, qualified Filipino mechanics were denied promotions while less qualified Caucasian employees were promoted. The employer was ordered to pay $153,000.
Lastly, a Filipino nurse whose Director of Nursing job was terminated at a high-end Illinois retirement facility (Presbyterian Homes) had won an EEOC case for national origin discrimination in November of 2007. The employer agreed to pay $125,000 as part of a consent decree before a federal district court, in addition to taking affirmative steps to recruit Asian/Filipino nurses.
These and all other cases convey a simple message: If you are an employer, you must treat all employees equally and with dignity, to avoid hefty fines and penalties. While workplace discrimination is slowly being eradicated in this country, the ghost of invidious machinations still lingers in our society, and gradual exorcism is the key.
Otherwise, be prepared to face the wrath of the ghost-busting EEOC.