OK Workers Appeal Discrimination Suit Dismissal

January 11, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A lawyer for the federal anti-discrimination agency argued to a federal appeals court Monday that a federal judge was wrong when he dismissed a lawsuit challenging an English-only policy for Altus, Oklahoma city workers.

During oral arguments before the US 10 th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) attorney Anne Noel Occhialino told the appeals judges that the Altus policy was illegal because it discriminates against Hispanic workers, according to the Associated Press.

The matter before the appeals court was a request for a review of a ruling by US District Judge David Russell to dismiss the workers’ complaint, saying the city had the authority to adopt the policy in managing its employees. Twelve bilingual Hispanic workers filed complaints with the EEOC after the city adopted the policy in 2002, saying the city failed to show there was a need to prevent them from speaking Spanish. They also said the policy singled out a nationality and promoted feelings of isolation.

In their appeal, the workers said the judge failed to consider their argument that the policy treated them differently from Anglo workers, in violation of employment regulations. “It puts them at a risk of termination or discipline that their fellow employees don’t face,” Occhialino told the court.

City officials have argued the policy was necessary to avoid feelings of exclusion among Anglo workers and to avoid misunderstandings in the event of emergency.