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Judge: ‘Language and national origin not interchangeable’

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in Employee Benefits Program,Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Lucas Lopez-Galvan, a native of the Dominican Republic, was hired in June 2005 as a tailor in a Men’s Wearhouse store in Charlotte.

Regional tailor Nitin Bulsara, who is fluent in Spanish, hired Lopez despite the fact that Lopez does not speak English. The clothing chain does not list English language fluency as one of the job’s requirements. Lopez’s wife served as an interpreter while he went through training.

None of Lopez’s managers or co-workers in the Charlotte store spoke Spanish. Lopez said co-workers shunned him, called him “stupid,” and made racist comments toward him.

He also complained that the sales staff preferred the store’s other tailor, Lana Goncharova, calling her out to the sales floor for most fittings. The sales staff said they did so because fittings required communicating with customers. Management offered to rotate the calls to ensure Lopez had an equal amount of work.

A month after he started working at the store, Lopez said he was experiencing chest pains because of the hostility. He scheduled an appointment with the EEOC on a Thursday at 1 p.m. Without disclosing the reason, he asked and was granted permission to leave at noon that day. But when the time came, his supervisor asked him to stay until the other tailor arrived. He stayed until 1 p.m., but then left, leaving the store without a tailor for an hour. The next day, he received a written warning.

The following day, Lopez did not report for work. Then he submitted a letter saying he was quitting due to harassment. A bilingual employee relations representative from Men’s Wearhouse called Lopez to discuss his complaint, but Lopez hung up on him.

Lopez sued, alleging national-origin discrimination and constructive discharge.

Charlotte District Judge Martin Reidinger dismissed his lawsuit, finding that most of the incidents Lopez described did “not relate to [his] Hispanic or Dominican national origin but rather relate to the plaintiff’s inability to speak and understand English when such was needed in the performance of his job.”

In fact, Bulsara communicated with Lopez in Spanish, and the company allowed him “to speak Spanish frequently and to use his wife as an interpreter.” Reidinger noted, “Language and national origin are not interchangeable.”

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