The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Wisconsin plastics manufacturer for requiring its employees to speak English, Judicial Watch reports.
Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. fired a group of Hmong and Hispanic workers in the fall of 2012. The EEOC argues that the firings violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which “protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, which includes the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group.”
“Our experience at the EEOC has been that so-called ‘English only’ rules and requirements of English fluency are often employed to make what is really discrimination appear acceptable,” said EEOC regional attorney John C. Hendrickson. “But superficial appearances are not fooling anyone.”
The company maintains that “the EEOC’s allegations are false and completely without merit,” saying that “the layoff decisions at issue in the fall of 2012 were made on the basis of the employees’ overall comparative skills, behaviors and job performance over time. Though the decisions were difficult, they were necessary in order to ensure the ongoing stability of Wisconsin Plastics for the benefit of WPI’s customers, its shareholders, the community and the roughly 275 current company and temporary employees.”
WPI has actually been honored for its commitment to diversity in the past. In 2003, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Association granted them an “employment leadership” award for, among other things, management efforts to learn Hmong to better facilitate communication with their employees.
The EEOC holds that “English skills” are not necessary to perform the jobs from which they were fired and is seeking lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages.
According to current EEOC guidelines English-only rules are justified only when absolutely necessary “for an employer to operate safely or efficiently.” While the EEOC admits that “there is no precise test for making this evaluation,” it has sued companies over English-only rules before. In 2009 they sued Skilled Healthcare Group, Inc. for the same violation, resulting in a $450,000 settlement the company paid to avoid litigation costs.