Federal Discrimination Suit Filed Against Highland Hospital

Rochester, NY – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and private attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a group of Hispanic employees -- alleging Highland Hospital and Strong Health implemented an English-only policy for its housekeeping staff.

The suit also claims the employees were disciplined for speaking their native language.

Sunu Chandy is a senior Trial Attorney in the EEOC's New York office. She says Highland has instituted an English-only, no Spanish policy.

Chandy says the policy applied to housekeeping staff with limited English ability, and this caused confusion on the job. She says it was a blanket policy throughout the hospital, and was applied in a discriminatory fashion, targeting Spanish-speaking employees.

In one case, the EEOC charges Spanish-speaking employees were penalized for saying "Hasta la Vista" after punching out for the day.

But Highland Hospital's Chief Operating Officer says that's not the case.

Cindy Becker says non-Spanish speaking employees of the hospital's Environmental Services unit went to management two years ago, complaining that Spanish speakers were deliberately switching to that language for private conversations when English speakers would enter the room.

She says employees of that unit only were asked to use a common language at work out of respect for each other. She says the hospital viewed it as an issue of multicultural respect and teamwork, and tried to mediate what it saw as a dispute between co-workers.

Chandy says the EEOC isn't asking for specific monetary damages, but the cap under federal law in this sort of case is 300-thousand dollars per plaintiff.

Becker says the hospital's position was misinterpreted and unfairly portrayed. She says the hospital was trying to maintain a good working environment for all employees.

She says it may be a case of one supervisor who took the issue too far.

Becker says the hospital has held meetings and focus groups in an effort to mediate a solution to the dispute, and will stand by its reputation as a multicultural employer.