Low-wage and entry-level employees often face significant workplace discrimination, which is compounded by their inability to meaningfully assert their legal rights without risking retaliation. Some New York employers think it is okay to abuse their workers by treating them differently based on race, gender, or national origin. Such conduct is clearly prohibited by state and federal law, and employers who flout the rules do so at their own peril.
EEOC Obtains $50,000 Settlement From NY Pizzeria Chain
A small group of upstate New York pizzerias learned this lesson recently when it agreed to settle charges of national origin discrimination filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC said the employer in this case practiced systemic discrimination against its Spanish-speaking kitchen employees over a period of more than 20 years. In at least one instance, the employer illegally fired a Hispanic employee who complained about his mistreatment.
The EEOC outlined its allegations against the restaurant chain in a 2015 complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. Among the EEOC's claims:
- The employer's senior manager “made derogatory comments towards Hispanic employees” on “almost a regular basis,” which included the use of “slurs” and expletives;
- Despite the fact the manager spoke Spanish and the employees worked in the kitchen and did not interact with customers, he insisted they “speak English only”;
- The employer allowed non-Hispanic employees to “take leave and sick days,” but denied similar benefits to Hispanic employees; and
- When one kitchen employee asked about the disparate treatment in sick days, he was fired.
After initially contesting the EEOC's charges, the employer agreed to a consent decree this past May. According to an EEOC press release, the decree requires the restaurant to pay $50,000 in damages to the “discrimination victims.” The employer must also implement “extensive safeguards to prevent future discrimination,” including new policies and training procedures. A consent decree is not an admission of liability by the employer, however.
Standing up for Your Rights in the Workplace
No employer has the right to treat you differently because of where you are from or what language you speak. There may be some cases in which an employer can require employees to speak English in front of customers, but blanket “English-only” policies without a business justification are illegal.
Similarly, a New York employer cannot offer higher pay or benefits to English-speaking employees while denying the same consideration to workers who speak Spanish or another language. An employer certainly cannot fire or punish a worker who speaks up against such illegal discrimination.
If you are dealing with a racist or hostile working environment like the one described in the case above, you need to know that you are not alone. Many other New Yorkers are in the same position as you. Oftentimes they are not even aware that the law protects them.
This is why if you suspect that have you been the victim of workplace discrimination, do not suffer in silence. An experienced New York employment law attorney will listen to your story and help determine if you have a viable case against your employer. Call the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar in New York City or Long Island to speak with an employment discrimination lawyer today.