Wisconsin company sued for firing 22 Hispanic and Hmong workers

Feds claim company used English-language test to mask discrimination

A Green Bay company is being sued for discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in relation to the company's firing of a group of Hispanic and Hmong workers, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The lawsuit has generated considerable controversy among some journalists who claim the company is being sued for requiring employees to speak English. The EEOC claims the company introduced the English-language test as a way of masking discriminatory practices.

Workers fired "for not speaking English"

According to PolitiFact, the story has become controversial, as some claim the company is being sued because it required its employees to speak English fluently. The company laid off 22 employees after introducing new performance tests that included marking down employees for their perceived inability to speak English.

The EEOC is now suing the company for lost wages, damages and injunctive relief. While some commentators seem to want to sensationalize the story as an example of a small company being unfairly persecuted by the federal government, the truth appears to be far more nuanced.

Masked discrimination

Contrary to what some commentators have said, the lawsuit actually has very little to do with the employees' English fluency. Instead, the EEOC points out that the English-language tests were introduced as a "sham" to mask what were in reality discriminatory firings. The Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on an employee's national origin and the company is accused of violating that protection.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the employees who were fired had worked at the company for seven to ten years beforehand and had previously received good marks on other performance evaluations. In fact, an ability to speak English seems to have no bearing on the ability to actually perform the duties that were required of the employees. When speaking English is not actually necessary for performing a job, then using English-only tests can be considered discrimination based on an employee's country of origin.

Discrimination in the workplace

As the above story shows, discrimination still occurs in the workplace and such discrimination may occasionally be masked by what seem to be "legitimate" business practices. For people who have faced discrimination by an employer, holding that employer accountable can feel like an intimidating and almost impossible task.

However, options do exist for unfairly dismissed workers to make sure a discriminatory workplace practice does not go unpunished. Civil rights and employment law, at both the state and federal levels, are designed to make sure that employers do not get away with discrimination. Anybody who has been the victim of discrimination or unfair dismissal should contact an employment law attorney as soon as possible. A qualified attorney will have the legal expertise workers need to help make sure an unscrupulous employer is held accountable for his or her actions.