U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Workers Fired for Lacking English Skills They Did Not Need, Federal Agency Charged
GREEN BAY, Wis. - Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. of Green Bay, Wis., a metal and plastic products manufacturer, will pay $475,000 and provide other relief to settle a national origin discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to the EEOC's suit, Wisconsin Plastics discriminated against a group of Hmong (an ethnic group of people who live in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand) and Hispanic employees by firing them because of their national origin.
Julianne Bowman, director of the EEOC's Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, said that the agency's pre-lawsuit investigation revealed that Wisconsin Plastics fired the group of 22 employees based on the company's conclusion that they lacked sufficient English skills, even though the EEOC's investigation concluded that they did not need English to do their jobs.
Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, including discrimination based on the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group. The EEOC filed suit (EEOC, et al. v. Wisconsin Plastics, Inc., No. 1:14-cv-663) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Green Bay in June 2014 after first trying to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
In May 2016, Chief District Judge William C. Griesbach ruled for the EEOC when he found that he could not conclude "as a matter of law, that the ability to speak English is necessarily a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" to fire employees who do not need to speak English to do their jobs, since Wisconsin Plastics did not provide a "substantial justification" for firing them based on their English ability.
The consent decree settling the suit, entered by Judge Griesbach on May XX, prohibits any future discrimination or retaliation and provides that Wisconsin Plastics will pay $475,000 to 17 Hmong employees and two Hispanic employees; post notices of the settlement; report its hires, terminations, and national origin discrimination complaints periodically to the EEOC; and train its managers and employees regarding employer obligations and the rights of employees under Title VII.
EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney Gregory M. Gochanour, said, "We appreciate Wisconsin Plastics' willingness to work together with us to settle this case. Going forward, we are confident that the company will offer equal employment opportunities to Hmong and Hispanic applicants."
The EEOC's Chicago District Office is responsible for processing discrimination charges, administrative enforcement and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov. Stay connected with the latest EEOC news by subscribing to our email updates.