Employer Mocking Filipino Nurse’s Accent May Count As Discrimination

Posted by Joe Sayas | Aug 16, 2019

Filipino registered nurse, Nancy Ortiz, worked for Dameron Hospital in Stockton, CA for 10 years. Born in the Philippines, English is her second language, and she speaks with a thick accent. Ortiz is over 40 years old.

Towards the ninth year of her employment at the hospital, and at this time working as a unit coordinator, Ortiz started reporting to a new department director. This director oversaw the unit coordinators, 99 percent of whom are Filipinos.

Every time the director met with the unit coordinators, she provided “negative feedback,” and “humiliate[d]” them. She insulted unit coordinators on their accents and derided their supposed poor English language skills. Singling out Filipinos, she told them during a meeting, “I don't know how Dameron gets you guys. Your accents are thick. [You] don't know what [you are] doing.” She stated that “those of you with a thick accent, those of you that cannot speak English ... need to go back to school and learn how to read and write grammar.”

The director also stated that “she was tired of attending meetings where Filipinos and minority workers over 40 were present.” She told the unit coordinators that they could “step down, step up or step out.”

A clinical manager named Bassey Duke testified that the director repeatedly told him that the Filipino nurses were “too old and had been there too long.” She said that “the unit coordinators are old dummies and they don't speak English and I want to get rid of all of them.” At some point, the director provided Duke with names of unit coordinators she wanted to get rid of, including Ortiz, because they were “dumb,” and “didn't speak English.”

Duke said the director pressured him to say that he had seen Ortiz sleeping on the job so that she could “go ahead and fire her,” but he refused to lie and was later terminated. Duke told Ortiz and several other unit coordinators about the department director's desire “to get rid of the minority nurses over 40 years old at Dameron, especially the Filipino nurses whom she specifically expressed hatred towards.” 

The director gave Ortiz poor evaluations and placed her on performance improvement plans. She also went ahead and falsely accused Ortiz of sleeping on the job. Ortiz felt she had no choice but to resign because she was about to have a mental breakdown from all the stress. She sued her employer for discrimination based on her national origin and age.

The employer argued that it did not fire Ortiz because she had quit. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that there is evidence of constructive discharge. A constructive discharge occurs where the employer either intentionally created or knowingly permitted the intolerable working conditions, such that a reasonable employee faced with those conditions would have felt compelled to resign.

The court also ruled that Ortiz presented enough evidence to show that the director had a discriminatory motive when she focused her derogatory comments on the Filipino nurses' accents, their supposed poor English language skills, and the fact that they're Filipinos. Discrimination on the basis of an employee's foreign accent is a sufficient basis for finding national origin discrimination


About the Author

Joe Sayas

C. JOE SAYAS, JR., Esq. Recognized as one of California's top employment and labor law attorneys by the Daily Journal, C. Joe Sayas, Jr. has devoted his more than 25-year litigation career to protecting workers' and consumer rights. He has fought for employees discriminated due to disability, ra...

Contact Us Today

Your inquiries are welcome at no cost!

You’re here likely because you have a question that needs an answer. You may be struggling with decisions that may affect your rights. We have decades of experience handling life-altering and high-value cases in employment law, insurance law, and civil rights. You can depend on us to help you with the compassion that you deserve.

Talk to us and find out how we can help you. Call us at (818) 291-0088 or fill out our contact form today.