Criticizing An Employee’s Foreign Accent May Be Evidence of Discrimination

foreign accent discriminationDiscrimination on the basis of an employee’s foreign accent is a sufficient basis for finding national origin discrimination. Fragante v. Honolulu (9th Cir. 1989) Indeed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidelines currently define national origin discrimination broadly as including, but not limited to, the denial of equal employment opportunity because of an individual’s, or his or her ancestor’s, place of origin; or because an individual has the physical, cultural or linguistic characteristics of a national origin group. 29 C.F.R. § 1606.1 (2019).  Thus, in Ortiz v Dameron Hospital Association (2019), the court referred to a manager’s statements with regard to Filipino workers that she “could not understand what they were saying’ and “did not know how they got their jobs speaking the way they do”, and that they “did not speak English” as significant evidence of national origin discrimination in violation of California FEHA. In Ortiz, this type of egregious evidence was also as sufficient basis for claims for constructive discharge, as well as hostile work environment.

On a practical level, it is a good idea for managers to avoid a situation where they lose patience with an employee’s accent an make derogatory comments about it, as this alone can lead to a lawsuit. And, if an employee with an accent complains that his co-worker/s mock his accent, the employer has the same obligation under the law to address and remedy that situation, as he would in any other situation where allegations of discrimination or harassment are made.