Fed commission sides with Pinay nurses fired for speaking Tagalog

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Aug 18 2011 10:19 AM | Updated as of Aug 18 2011 09:58 PM

WASHINGTON D.C. - The United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EOCC) said 4 Filipina nurses terminated last year by a Baltimore hospital for speaking Tagalog were victims of discrimination.

Gerald Kiel, director of the EEOC’s Baltimore field office, concluded that the Filipina nurses were subjected to “unequal terms and conditions of employment, hostile work environment, disciplinary action and discharge because of their national origin.”

Nurses Corina Capunitan Yap, Anna Rowena Rosales, Hachelle Natano, and Jazziel Granada accused the Bon Secours Health System of firing them without due process after they spoke in their native tongue.

“I feel I was harassed and discriminated against because of my national origin,” Natano told ABS-CBN News when Balitang America broke the story in June 2010.

“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.”

Their lawyer, Arnedo Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), lauded the EEOC decision. “This is a great victory for immigrants and cultural diversity,” he said.

“The English-only rule in work places has nothing to do with one’s performance of duties and is discriminatory. Every immigrant has the right to speak their own native language whenever they want to so long as they do not compromise or put their patients in danger like the case of Bon Secours,” he explained.

Bon Secours Hospital imposed the English-only rule for duty personnel in and outside the Emergency Department (ED) early last year. But the EEOC in a decision signed August 16 questioned how the policy was being enforced there.

Kiel said the hospital’s English-only rule in the ED “constitutes unlawful discrimination” because of the way it was applied to the Filipina nurses.

The nurses said they spoke Tagalog only during their break time and away from patients and other hospital staff.

Maryland does not have an official state language.

“Barring use of non-English languages by any hospital employee in any department or location (not just the ED) holding any job title while performing any job responsibility in any context also cannot be justified as job-related and consistent with business necessity,” the ruling said.

The Filipina nurses appeared to have been singled out, the EEOC ruled. “Other employees spoke Spanish and other languages contrary to the policies and were not disciplined. In addition, it appears more serious infractions of work rules were not comparably punished,” Kiel wrote.

The EEOC urged the management of Bon Secours Hospital to settle with the Filipina nurses. “This decision is final,” Kiel said, “the Commission now invites the parties to join with it in reaching a just resolution of this matter.”

Valera said if a settlement can not be reached, they will likely file a damage suit against Bon Secours Hospital.