Many organizations serve customers who speak languages other than English, and thus they require employees to have specific bilingual skills. If that describes your organization, make sure you can defend the language requirement.
As one employer recently learned, that may mean having to disclose otherwise confidential information in court, including client data.
Recent case: Donna was fired from her loan manager job with a California housing agency. The reason:and lack of Spanish-language skills, said the agency.
Donna, who is white, sued, claiming the real reason for her firing was a clear preference for Hispanic workers. She alleged that the language requirement was bogus.
As part of the lawsuit, Donna’s lawyers demanded access to the employer’s loan documents showing the borrower’s ethnicity of its borrowers. The goal: prove Spanish language skills was not a legitimate job requirement.
The housing agency complained, but the court said it had to cough up the records. If the records showed few borrowers were Hispanic, that might show that Donna really didn’t need to know much Spanish to do her job.
In the end, rather than turning over confidential loan documents, the employer dropped the defense that Spanish skills were required. (Allen v. Neighborhood Housing Services Silicon Valley, No. 12-1656, ND CA, 2012)
Final note: If your job announcement lists language skills as a requirement, your HR files should document why the requirement is necessary.
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