A group of Filipino nurses who claimed they were mocked for their accents and ordered to speak “English only” won a nearly $1-million settlement against a Central California hospital where bosses and co-workers were allegedly urged to eavesdrop on the immigrant workers.
The $975,000 settlement, announced Monday by lawyers from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is believed to be the largest language discrimination settlement in the U.S. healthcare industry, according to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
Officials at Delano Regional Medical Center insisted they did nothing wrong and settled the lawsuit only because it made financial sense. Under the terms of the settlement, however, the hospital must conduct anti-discrimination training and hire a monitor to track workplace conduct.
The case, filed in 2010, involved 69 immigrants who said they suffered “constant harassment and humiliation when they opened their mouths, or talked with family members on the phone,” said Anna Park, a Los Angeles-based attorney for the commission. She said nurses were banned from speaking Tagalog and other dialects in break rooms, hallways and the cafeteria.
“They were always telling us, ‘Ssshhh. English only. English only. I felt embarrassed, ashamed,” said Elnora Cayme, who worked at the hospital for more than 27 years.
During a 2006 mandatory meeting for Filipino staffers, nurses were told they were forbidden from using their native language at “any time in the hospital,” said Wilma Lamug, a former 10-year employee.
She said the hospital’s former chief executive vowed that “he would install surveillance cameras in nursing stations. Whoever is caught, they were threatened with suspension or termination,” Lamug said. “Sometimes, we were speaking English, but due to our accent and diction, they thought we were speaking something else.”
“We feel we restored our dignity—but there’s no closure,” said Hilda Ducusin, a staff nurse for 10 years. “The scar is always there.”