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Growing pains as Minnesota's workforce diversifies

According to a recent statistic from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, complaints of workplace discrimination based on national origin rose by 76 percent from 1997 to 2011 in Minnesota and across the country.

National origin discrimination occurs when an employer treats an employee unfairly based on his or her perceived country of origin or ethnic background. For example, many of the workers involved in the EEOC's above statistic won large settlements after claiming they were harassed or reprimanded for speaking in foreign languages or accents.

The EEOC believes that one factor contributing to the increase may be the increasing diversity of America's workplaces. More than ever before, workers in Minnesota and across the country are experiencing an ethnically diverse labor force. In fact, about 45 million Americans speak a non-English language at home.

Language ability is a frequently cited claim in workplace discrimination complaints. In such cases, a worker may believe he was treated unfairly from native English speakers because of a foreign accent, ancestry, culture, or an observed custom.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other laws, protects against national origin discrimination. The federal government issued guidelines in 2002 to employers on when they can enforce English-only rules, which is most cases is only when those rules are absolutely required for performing a job. The EEOC similarly cautions that employers must distinguish between a merely discernible foreign accent and one that interferes with communication skills necessary to perform job duties.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your national origin, accent, ethnicity, or perceived ethnicity, you should consult with an experienced employment law attorney. An attorney may help you to take proactive measures to preserve your job status. If you have already been terminated, an attorney may be able to help you bring a successful national origin discrimination claim, often accompanied by a monetary award. It may even be possible to have your job restored.

Source: Insurance Journal, "More Workers Claiming Job Discrimination Over Language, Accents," Paul Foy, Dec. 4, 2012

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