N.Y. Hospital Settles Bias Charge

May 12, 2006

A Rochester, N.Y. hospital is paying $200,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming Hispanic housekeeping staff were penalized for not speaking English while on the job, federal authorities said Tuesday.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the lawsuit last summer on behalf of five Highland workers who grew up in Cuba and Puerto Rico, maintained the English-only policy was applied in a discriminatory fashion.

Under the settlement, the EEOC said Highland Hospital and its parent, Strong Health, agreed to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy and complaint procedure and to instruct managers and supervisors about recognizing discriminatory practices.

The hospital said non-Spanish-speaking employees complained their Hispanic colleagues were deliberately switching to Spanish for private conversations when other co-workers would enter the room. Employees of the housekeeping unit were asked to use a common language at work out of respect for each other, it said.

But EEOC officials said the hospital knowingly hired employees with limited English skills and then prohibited them from speaking with each other.

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