VA Hotel Slapped With English Fluency Lawsuit

October 6, 2004 ( - The federal anti-discrimination agency has slapped an Arlington, Virginia hotel with a lawsuit, charging that it failed to rehire a dishwasher who didn't speak English.

The suit against the Sheraton National Hotel is at least the third in the past two years in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has intervened on behalf of Spanish-speaking workers over English fluency policies, the Washington Post reported.

The suit involved Jesus Romero, who was temporarily laid off in September 2001 while the hotel remodeled its restaurant. Employees were advised they would be rehired less than a year later, the suit said. However, Romero, who worked for the hotel for 16 years, was denied the job because of a newly implemented English fluency requirement, the EEOC said. According to EEOC policy, a fluency requirement is permissible in workplaces only if needed “for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed.”

Romero’s position as a dishwasher “did not require a lot of public interaction,” Stacey Caldwell, a senior trial attorney with the EEOC who is working on the national-origin-discrimination suit, told the Post. “We feel it is especially egregious and don’t believe it constitutes a business necessity.” The suit seeks back pay and reinstatement, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

In other litigation over the same issue, the agency settled a similar national-origin-discrimination lawsuit last year with Colorado Central Station Casino Inc. for $1.5 million. Hispanic employees in its housekeeping department were subjected to a blanket English-only rule. And the EEOC joined an employment-discrimination lawsuit against Houston companies Quietflex Manufacturing Co. and Goodman Manufacturing Co. two years ago. The class-action suit, which is pending, alleged the companies imposed unnecessary English fluency requirements to prevent Hispanic workers from being hired or transferred into better-paying jobs. Discrimination charges filed with the EEOC by Hispanic employees nationwide are up 23% since 1999, the agency said.