DELANO, Calif. — Dozens of Filipino hospital workers in California will share a nearly $1 million settlement in a lawsuit claiming they were targeted by a rule requiring English only at work, federal officials said Monday.
The settlement involves nearly 70 nurses and medical staff members who accused Delano Regional Medical Center in Kern County of banning them from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages while letting other workers speak in their native languages, including Spanish, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission announced.
The lawsuit, filed jointly by the commission and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in 2010, accused the hospital of creating a hostile working environment for Filipinos by singling them out for reprimands and by encouraging other staff to report them.
The medical center defended its English-only policy as essential to patient care. In a written statement, officials said the hospital did nothing wrong.
Under California law, employers can require workers to speak English if there is a business necessity.
For decades, thousands of nurses from the Philippines have migrated to the United States to alleviate the nursing shortage. More than half of American nurses trained abroad are from the Philippines.
Filipino nurses in Delano said they were called to a special meeting with hospital managers in 2006, warned not to speak Tagalog, and told surveillance cameras would be installed, if necessary, to monitor them. No other language groups were included in the meeting, the lawsuit states.
Since then, workers said, they were told on a daily basis by fellow staffers to speak only English, even on breaks. The workers allege they were targets of undue scrutiny, discipline, harassment and threats over the issue.
The hospital's policy, which requires the use of either English or the patient's preferred language while care is provides, remains in effect, the hospital's statement said, though it has been updated.
As part of the settlement, the hospital also agreed to develop strong protocols for handling complaints of harassment and discrimination; adopt a language policy that complies with the Civil Rights Act; and conduct anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all staff with additional training for supervisors.
Delano Regional Medical Center is a 156-bed hospital located about 30 miles north of Bakersfield.