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Require bilingual skills? Document why

by on
in Hiring,Human Resources

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: poor performance 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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