Hispanic Fired for English Abilities Can Pursue Discrimination Claim

August 1, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A District of Columbia appellate court has ruled that a man fired from a credit union because he could not speak English well enough can pursue a national origin discrimination claim under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

An SHRM Online news report said   the D.C. Court of Appeals asserted in the first case of its kind that workplace practices “that are merely questionable under Title VII (federal workplace discrimination law) may suffice to establish discrimination under the DCHRC,” the appeals court ruled, explaining that the D.C. law has only a narrow “business necessity” defense available to employers.

In the case involving Juan Estenos, the appellate judges ruled that the fact that another employee who spoke only English was not fired was enough evidence of possible bias to require a trial, threw out a lower court’s decision, and sent the case back for further hearings.

According to the news report, Estenos was hired as a clerk at the D.C. office of the employee credit union for the United Nations-affiliated Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization, even though it was apparent during his interview that his English was poor. The credit union’s stated goal was to have everyone be bilingual. Estenos received a good performance review and a pay raise at the end of his probationary period.

The news account said a few months later an individual who did not speak Spanish assumed the role of CEO of the credit union and promptly terminated Estenos because of his lack of English fluency. Estenos sued in D.C. Superior Court three months after being terminated, but the court granted judgment to the credit union without a trial.

The case is Estenos v. PAHO/WHO Federal Credit Union.