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In Dallas, Texas, a speak-English-only policy implemented by Premier Operator Services, Incorporated, a former long distance operator service, constituted national origin discrimination, ruled Magistrate Judge Paul D. Stickney. Thirteen Hispanic employees were awarded over $700,000 in damages. The decision by the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, represents the largest monetary award ever obtained by the EEOC in a lawsuit for English-only violations. Premier’s rule, banning the speaking of languages other than English at all times in the workplace including lunch and other breaks, discriminated against mostly Mexican-American bilingual employees hired, ironically, for their ability to speak Spanish. The court held that the policy resulted in discrimination against workers based on their national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The EEOC maintained that the Hispanic workers were first hired for their ability to speak Spanish as a benefit to the business, then told not to speak their native language at any time while on the premises except to non-English speaking customers. The workers, some of whom had previously received performance awards, were fired and retaliated against after refusing to sign the restrictive language policy and filing discrimination charges with EEOC. The individual workers were awarded back pay for wages lost as a result of their discharge, totaling approximately $59,000. An additional $50,000 was awarded to each worker representing the maximum allowable recovery in this case under the Civil Rights Act of 1991 for compensatory and punitive damages. Judge Stickney relied on expert testimony from linguist Susan Berk- Seligson of the University of Pittsburgh, who testified that “code switching” an unconscious habit where persons who are bilingual switch from one language to another during casual conversation makes it extremely difficult to completely suppress one’s primary language. The judge also rejected the idea that the policy and its enforcement promoted harmony, or was needed to improve communication, stating, “Quite the opposite . . . the policy served to create a disruption in the workplace and feelings of alienation and inadequacy by . . . proven performers.” The court noted in the 22-page decision that the company’s language policy, posted on a sign at the entrance of the building where the employees reported to work each day, was accompanied by a warning that, “Absolutely no guns, knives or weapons of any kind” were allowed on the premises, thereby “implying a combined concern about the conduct of those persons who speak a language other than English” and “setting the scene for stigmatization.” The decision followed an abbreviated trial on July 28, 2000, at which the company did not appear. While Premier Operator Services had declared bankruptcy prior to the trial, the court noted evidence presented by EEOC that the President and CEO may have transferred assets from the company and that the judgment could be enforced against successor employers. The suit was filed in January 1998. � 2000, CCH INCORPORATED. All Rights Reserved.

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