Dozens of Filipino hospital workers in California sued their employer Tuesday alleging they were the sole ethnic group targeted by a rule requiring them to speak only English.
The group of 52 nurses and medical staff filed a complaint accusing Delano Regional Medical Center of banning them from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages while letting other workers speak Spanish and Hindi.
The plaintiffs are seeking to join an August complaint filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Kern County federal court over the hospital's enforcement of a rule requiring workers to speak English.
Filipino workers said they were called to a special meeting in August 2006 where they were warned not to speak Tagalog and told surveillance cameras would be installed, if necessary, to monitor them. Since then, workers said they were told on a daily basis by fellow staffers to speak only English, even on breaks.
"I felt like people were always watching us," said tearful 56-year-old Elnora Cayme, who worked for the hospital from 1980 to 2008. "Even when we spoke English ... people would come and approach us and tell us, 'English only.'"
A message was left at the hospital seeking comment.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC has accused the hospital in California's San Joaquin Valley of creating a hostile working environment for Filipinos by singling them out for reprimands and for encouraging other staff to report them. The agency is seeking an injunction to protect the workers against future discrimination.
The EEOC has seen an increase in complaints alleging discrimination based on national origin amid a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment, said Anna Park, a regional attorney for the EEOC. That's especially the case in California's central valley, where a greater share of the complaints the agency receives relate to such issues than in the nation as a whole.
In this case, the current and former hospital workers filed a separate complaint under state law in part because monetary damages are capped by federal law, said Julie Su, litigation director for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which represents the plaintiffs. They want the English-only policy to be changed and for hospital staff to be trained on the new rule.
Under California law, employers may require workers to speak English if there is a business necessity, Su said.
Delano Regional Medical Center is a 156-bed hospital located about 30 miles north of Bakersfield.
© 2010 The Associated Press.