Feds say workplace discrimination complaints rising over language ability, foreign accents

With more states implementing stricter immigration laws, there has been a spike in the amount of people in the workforce who are claiming discrimination over their English-speaking ability and accents.

Over the past decade, the labor force has become more diverse with over 45 million Americans speaking a language other than English at home.  Between 1997 and 2011, complaints regarding workplace discrimination have risen by more than 76 percent-11,800 complaints. Civil-rights advocates attest that workplace environments continue to become more hostile to those with accents as lawmakers in certain states are cracking down on illegal immigration. “There’s definitely a climate of fear that’s bad for everybody,” said John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah. Because there is an emphasis on immgration reform occuring in the government, the perception becomes that immigrants-even those residing in the U.S. legally- are part of the ones creating a problem. The broken immigration system has created a predicament for many living in the U.S. as well as those attempting to come to the U.S. Congress is beginning to take responsibility for a mess created by ineffective policies that need to be updated. While Americans wait for the outcome of a new comprehensive immigration plan, immigrants nationwide continue to be discriminated against.

A recent lawsuit was settled in favor of a FedEx contract driver who was fired for having a Russian accent. The truck driver held a commercial driver’s license which obviously requires the ability to communicate.  An Iowa weigh station complained to the driver’s superiors and the truck driver was fired.  A similar situation aroze in Arizona regarding the controversial SB1070 law where an activist was denied a ballot as a city council candidate because of a lack in English proficiency. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled against the activist’s complaint “upholding a 1913 state law that prohibits anyone from holding public office “who is unable to speak, write and read the English language.”

In 2002, the federal government issued guidelines for employers that specified a rule that employers can enforce Enlgish-only rules when it is a crucial part for performing a job. In various cases where workers were discriminated against and called derogatory names for having an accent have been successful in winning lawsuits against employers.  While some consider this a positive fact, others are concerned that so many complaints of workplace discrimination are occurring. While the laws against discriminating in the workplace are clear, immigrants from many different countries are standing up and showing that they will not be subject to intolerable workplace conditions.

If you have questions regarding applying for a visa, need help with a discrimination case or immigration laws, contact us at 314-961-8200 or visit our contact page.