Dozens of Filipino hospital workers in California sued their employer Tuesday alleging they were the sole ethnic group targeted by a rule requiring them to speak only English.
The group of 52 nurses and medical staff filed a complaint accusing Delano Regional Medical Center of banning them from speaking Tagalog and other Filipino languages while letting other workers speak Spanish and Hindi.
The plaintiffs are seeking to join an August complaint filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Kern County federal court over the hospital’s enforcement of a rule requiring workers to speak English.
Filipino workers said they were called to a special meeting in August 2006 where they were warned not to speak Tagalog and told surveillance cameras would be installed, if necessary, to monitor them. Since then, workers said they were told on a daily basis by fellow staffers to speak only English, even on breaks.
“I felt like people were always watching us,” said tearful 56-year-old Elnora Cayme, who worked for the hospital from 1980 to 2008. “Even when we spoke English … people would come and approach us and tell us, ‘English only.'”
“Our co-workers, supervisors and any staff that doesn’t speak our dialect, they approach us once or twice a day along the hallways, nurse’s stations and even at break rooms, saying ’speak English’ even if we’re not talking, even if we haven’t opened our mouths,” Cayme said.
Wilma Lamug, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit added, “The president said whoever was caught speaking Filipino language will be suspended or terminated.”
I suspect this whole drama was the result some misguided initiative to “improve patient experience” or because of a patient complaint of dubious validity. Then the hospital got out the truncheon to enforce the rules — which speaks volumes, incidentally, about the quality of nursing work life at this hospital. And let’s be clear: it’s no use pretending these nurses and other health care workers weren’t targeted because they were perceived to be powerless in the hospital food chain. Do you doubt any physician would be subject to the same rule?
Leaving aside the demeaning and crude bullying tactics, co-worker harassment apparently enabled and encouraged by the hospital, dire threats from human resources, and the bizarre, Orwellesque promise to install security cameras to monitor spontaneous outbreaks of Tagalog, I had to ask myself: what were these guys smoking? Is there ever a good outcome when a hospital targets nurses by their ethnicity? Let’s tally this up. A lawsuit. International media exposure, for innovation of the worst kind. Public approbation. A new reputation for racism. (I think this is a fair reading of the situation.) A strong message sent to the community that people of colour are not welcome on the premises. An equally powerful signal sent to health care professionals that whites only need apply — in an era where every HCP is gold. Conscientious nurses spreading the word through social medial about a thuggish employer. Snippy little blog posts from the likes of me.
Yep, looks like a all-round win to me, boys. Well done. The optics on this are fabulous.
More important, though is the effects on patients and quality of care. Achieving good patient outcomes is notoriously difficult when nurses practice in a poisoned work place. I’m guessing a hospital where staff are being deliberately pitted against each other because of nationality is not a very happy one.
In short: would you want to work there? Or be treated there as a patient?