BALTIMORE, Maryland - Four Filipina ex-staffers of a Baltimore City hospital haven’t gotten over the shock of being summarily fired from their jobs, allegedly because they spoke Pilipino during their lunch break.
“Hindi ko pa rin matanggap na the basis of the termination was the language,” nurse Hachelle Natano told ABS-CBN News.
Corina Capunitan-Yap, Anna Rowena Rosales, Jazziel Granada and Natano were fired from their jobs at the Bon Secours Hospital last April 16.
“I feel I was harassed and discriminated against because of my national origin,” Natano explained.
“They claimed they heard us speaking in Pilipino and that is the only basis of the termination. It wasn’t because of my functions as a nurse. There were no negative write-ups, no warning before the termination,” she added.
Last November, Bon Secours imposed for the first time an English-only language policy in the Emergency Room, the nurses said.
Many hospitals, especially those with foreign medical staff, implement the rule in trauma facilities because it’s critical everyone understand each other as they respond to life-and-death situations.
They were asked to sign the hospital’s “Emergency Department Expectations” that set the length of their lunch and snack breaks; lays down when they can take a rest; and directs that English should be the only language spoken while the nurses are on ER duty.
Granada was surprised when she too got the boot.
“I was shocked. I’m not even a nurse. I’m a secretary so I’m not involved with patient care. It came as a big shock and I was asking myself, why I was included,” she told ABS-CBN News.
Lawyer Arnedo Valera of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission has filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The nurses, he pointed out, were “arbitrarily terminated from work without due process,” and the English-only rule violated their basic rights.
Fired because of bagoong?
This is not the first time hospital workers have been fired or disciplined for speaking in a language other than English.
In 2005, the EEOC led a federal law suit against the Highland Hospital in Rochester, New York on behalf of five Hispanic housekeepers.
They were sanctioned after they were overheard saying “hasta la vista” or goodbye as they were leaving work.
The EEOC said the English-only rule was unlawful and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits job discrimination based on a person’s race, sex or national origin.
Valera believes the English-only rule at Bon Secours Hospital was too broad and so lacking in clear guidelines to be fairly and legally implemented.
“If you speak just a single Tagalog word and someone hears you, that can be grounds for termination which is what happened to our nurses,” he explained.
“All it takes is just one word. That can be a greeting, a remark or even the name of a Filipino dish. Based on this rule, you could say ‘bagoong’ (a fermented fish sauce) and lose your job,” Valera said.
Granada, still in the dark what Pilipino word she uttered to get the pink slip, speculates it might have been because she called a Filipino doctor in the hospital “Kuya” – a word of respect akin to the English "Sir."
The Filipinas’ plight has been aggravated, they say, by the hospital’s inability to show any documentation of when the alleged violations took place.
Their dismissal was so abrupt it took several days for the termination papers to catch up with them.
Valera said this incident goes deeper into the problems Filipino and other foreign nurses face in US hospitals.
"There is no business necessity, there is no rational justification or direct relationship between speaking in Pilipino to the performance of their job,” he said.
Lured by higher pay and wider opportunities for advancement, Filipino professionals – doctors, nurses, engineers – have flocked to the US for the past 50 years.
The Philippines, India and Nigeria are the top suppliers of nurses in the US. In the 1980s, nearly half of all foreign nurses entering the US were Filipinos.
“America is supposed to be land of the free but in our case we were terminated because we spoke in our native language," Rosales said.
“It is so unfair for Filipino nurses. I am making an appeal to nurses’ associations that with this incident we should let them know that no patient is harmed when we speak in our native language,” she declared.