New York City’s Princeton Club faces a lawsuit alleging it terminated a long-time employee because of her accent. Jo-Ann Garcia, age 51, claims the club fired her after nearly 30 years of service because a new general manager found Hispanic accents “embarrassing.”
Garcia, a native of Puerto Rico, claims Spanish-speaking employees were effectively segregated and were told not to speak Spanish in the club’s public areas. Garcia’s lawsuit says an assistant manager reported that General Manager Larry Hines wanted white, native English-speaking employees.
For example, Hines allegedly stopped inviting comptroller Guillermo Arana to meetings so he didn’t have to hear Arana’s accent. When Arana retired, he was replaced by a white, native English-speaking employee.
Garcia claims the club told her it let her go for financial reasons, but it hired a younger, white employee who is now earning as much or more than she was.
The suit seeks $10 million in damages, alleging the club violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act when it fired her.
Note: If Garcia’s allegations are true, they paint a damning picture of the upscale Ivy League club. The club will have to overcome its elitist image should the case go before a jury. Employers should always look at the totality of circumstances when making a firing decision, including how their case will look to a jury made up mostly of employees, not employers.