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A Massachusetts state corrections officer, suspended for refusing to act as a Spanish-language interpreter at a prison hearing, won a bias claim on Aug. 3, having charged that the disciplinary action was taken because of his national origin. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination awarded Orlando Santiago, an officer at the state Correctional Institution at Concord, $10,000 for emotional distress caused by the five-day suspension. The MCI-Concord superintendent at the time, Paul DiPaolo, ordered the suspension in 1994, when Mr. Santiago refused to act as an interpreter at a Classification Board hearing. MCAD Commissioner Douglas T. Schwarz ruled that the corrections officials’ finding that Mr. Santiago was “insubordinate” in his refusal was based “solely on [his] national origin and stereotypical notions about his language ability.” A second complaint filed by Santiago with MCAD, however, was denied by the agency after it was determined that discrimination did not play a role in the selection of other officers for jobs for which Santiago had applied. In the complaint stemming from the translating incident, Mr. Santiago — who moved here from Puerto Rico at age 3 and is not trained as an interpreter — said that he refused to do the translation because “he did not believe his Spanish-language skills were adequate for the task, and such duties were not specified in his position description.” In his decision, Commissioner Schwarz cited state law Chapter 151B, which prohibits discrimination in employment, and several discrimination cases, including the recent Supreme Judicial Court case Abramian v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 432 Mass. 107, 117-118. That case determined that a fact-finder could base a discrimination decision on a defendant’s pretext,” or claim that the disciplinary action was handed down for reasons other than stated. Santiago represented himself in the case. Ira Tripathi-Zutshi, who represented the state Department of Correction, could not be reached for comment. Santiago’s contention that the interpreting service he was asked to perform was not part of his job description is a factor employers in general should consider if they ask workers to do additional tasks. Framingham, Mass. attorney Howard I. Wilgoren, who largely represents management in his employment law practice, said he counsels his clients to include a clause in job descriptions — “any other duties as required by the employer” — to cover additional duties that may come up in the workplace. “Usually employees are not privileged to refuse a reasonable order,” said Wilgoren. “But it depends on how other, similarly situated employees are treated under the same circumstances. It would have been smarter for [the corrections department] to broadcast generally among their employees that they needed someone to translate, without going to one individual. They should have asked for volunteers.” Maria C. Moynihan, a management attorney at the Boston law firm Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, said that when an employee questions an assignment, “a number of red flags should go up.” She said that the employer should ask, “Is this a case of a supervisor dumping too much work on someone? Or is it an employee who doesn’t want to do too much?” “There’s more of a team approach now in the workplace,” she said. “Sometimes [an added duty] presents an opportunity for someone to learn something new, but by contrast, it shouldn’t be something that’s unfairly placed on the employee.

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