New U.S. EEOC Guidance on Language Based Discrimination

While language based discrimination can be illegal, “Employers [also] may have legitimate business reasons for basing employment decisions on linguistic characteristics. However, because linguistic characteristics are closely associated with national origin, it is important to carefully scrutinize employment decisions that are based on language,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) new Guidance on National Origin Discrimination.

For example, treating employees differently because of accent and language fluency can have serious consequences. Such different treatment may be illegal under federal civil rights law. According to the new Guidance, “National origin and accent are … intertwined, and employment decisions or harassment based on accent may violate Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964].”

Language services professionals and organizations using interpreters make hiring decisions all the time based on the language abilities of prospective interpreters. With the new Guidance, they must also understand how such hiring choices may impact federal national origin discrimination protections. The EEOC’s new Guidance impels language service providers, hospitals, courts, airports, local and state governments, and all organizations using interpreters to understand what federal law says about fluency and accent discrimination before hiring their next interpreters and other employees.

With the new Guidance, the EEOC essentially clarifies and outlines federal interpretations of what is national origin discrimination, interpretations that have not been updated for about 15 years. The EEOC is soliciting public comments about the new Guidance through July 1, 2016.

Read some of Bruce Adelson’s other blog posts to learn about more developments in language access law, and be sure to contact us if you’re interested in a consultation about your own organization’s compliance with federal language access law.

© Bruce L. Adelson, special for Bromberg.  2017 All Rights Reserved The material herein is educational and informational only.  No legal advice is intended or conveyed.

Bruce L. Adelson, Esq, CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise concerning many federal laws.  Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Senior Attorney. 

Mr. Adelson teaches cultural and civil rights awareness at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.