Thursday, October 1, 2009

Discrimination Based On Accent

Many discrimination cases involve characteristics such as race, sex, national origin and religion. Here’s one with a bit of a twist ... discrimination based upon accent.

In Morales v. HT Rest NYC LLC (NYS Supreme Court, N.Y. Co. - Decided 9/22/09), Plaintiff alleged that she was denied employment as a waitress based on her accent. Plaintiff further alleged that in rejecting her for the position, Defendant’s representative told her "You have a Latin accent," "You don't speak White," and "You are Ghetto." Defendant never alleged that the Plaintiff was unqualified to perform the duties of a waitress.

In denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint against the Defendant restaurant, the Court cited to precedent for the proposition that while a justified concern over language skills is not evidence of discrimination, comments about a person’s accent may be probative of discriminatory intent. The Court noted that “[a]n adverse employment decision may be predicated upon an individual's accent when — but only when — it interferes materially with job performance” [citation omitted].

In this case, the Court held that refusing to employ Plaintiff as a waitress because of a Latin accent (without more) could be discrimination based upon race or national origin. Although the Defendant contended that it did not hire Plaintiff based on the nature of its business and the manner in which she spoke (rather than her accent), the Court held that such contention was a factual issue to be determined at a later time.

The Morales case treads fine lines between an employer's legitimate business interest with respect to a person's ability to communicate clearly, an individual's accent (which may be incapable of alteration), and the manner of speech.

No comments: