The Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington and its parent company, Interstate Hotels & Resorts Inc., will pay $80,000 to settle a lawsuit filed last year by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a dishwasher who was fired because of a new English-only rule at the hotel.
Jesus Romero was temporarily laid off along with other kitchen workers in September 2001 while the hotel remodeled its restaurant. Employees were advised they would be rehired less than a year later, the lawsuit said. However, Romero was denied the job because of an English fluency requirement, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC found the firing to be discriminatory because, as a dishwasher, Romero had little contact with the public. As a result, English fluency was not a business necessity. He had worked as a dishwasher for 16 years.
The case is one of several in which the EEOC has intervened on behalf of Spanish-speaking workers over English fluency policies, which the agency says have become an emerging issue with a growing immigrant population in the United States.
Although the hotel later abolished its English fluency policy, according to the EEOC, Romero was not rehired.
According to EEOC policy, a fluency requirement is permissible in workplaces only if needed "for the effective performance of the position for which it is imposed."
The settlement will provide Romero with back pay, compensatory damages and attorneys' fees. The settlement also includes an agreement that the hotel will provide training to managerial employees concerning the prohibition of national-origin discrimination and the potentially discriminatory nature and impact of English-fluency-requirement policies, according to the EEOC.
Discrimination filings by Hispanics with the EEOC have increased by almost 23 percent, from 6,250 in 1999 to 7,687 in 2004. In the same period, national-origin discrimination filings with the EEOC rose by 18 percent, from 7,108 to 8,361.
"Employees with firsthand knowledge of this situation were not available by the time the investigation began, so we were unable to ascertain the decision not to invite Mr. Romero back," said Melissa Thompson, a spokeswoman for Interstate Hotels & Resorts. She said Interstate cooperated with the EEOC "and felt a settlement was the best way to solve this situation."
The company will provide additional training to managers, she said.