EEOC Takes on the Salvation Army over English Policy - Alleges Discrimination

April 30, 2007 -- In a complaint filed at the end of March in the United States District Court District of Massachusetts, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says two Hispanic workers, one's national original is the Dominican Republic, and the other's is El Salvador) were subjected to discrimination by the Salvation Army "on the basis of their national origin (Hispanic) by requiring them to comply with Defendant's English-only rule, and terminating them because they failed to comply with its proficiency requirement, spoke Spanish in the workplace and were not fluent in speaking or understanding English."

The complaint says Dolores Escorbor and Maria Del Carmen Perdomo "both began work at Defendant's thrift store in Framingham, Massachusetts in 1999. Spanish is their native language and they both speak very little English."

The EEOC complaint alleges the following:

"They both worked commendably and without incident for at least five years, relying on Spanish as their principal means of workplace communication in their jobs as clothes sorters.  In 2004, Defendant decided to enforce a written English language policy at the Framingham store, which it had not previously enforced while Escorbor and Perdomo had been employed.  It delayed enforcement of the policy for at least a year.

In a statement Major Karla Clark, the Salvation Army's Eastern Territory Community Relations and Development Secretary said the following:

"The Salvation Army has longstanding national and international policies that denounce any form of discrimination based on ethnic origin, among other factors, whether in the provision of our religious and charitable services or in employment.

In Montgomery, Heather Holcomb, Director of Public Affairs for the local Salvation Army corps, says she has heard of the lawsuit and says, "Employee job descriptions do state they must read and write English, but I know we've never had a problem with it here locally."

The EEOC is asking the court to

  • "Grant a permanent injunction enjoining Defendant, its officers, successors, assigns, and all persons in active concert or participation with them, from engaging in any employment practice which discriminates on the basis of national origin.
  • Order Defendant to institute and carry out policies, practices, and programs which provide equal opportunities for Hispanic employees and which eradicate the effects of its unlawful employment practices.
  • Order Defendant to make Escorbor and Perdomo whole by providing appropriate back pay with prejudgment interest, in amounts to be determined at trial, and other affirmative relief necessary to eradicate the effects of its unlawful employment practices, but not limited to front pay and reinstatement.
  • Order Defendant to make Escorbar and Perdomo whole by providing compensation for past and future nonpecuniary losses resulting from unlawful employment practices described above, including but not limited to job search expenses and contributions to pension and health insurance funds, in amounts to be determined at trial.
  • Order Defendant to make Escorbor and Perdomo whole by providing compensation for past and future nonpecuniary losses resulting from unlawful employment practices described above, including but not limited to emotional pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, and inconvenience to be determined at trial.
  • Order Defendant to pay Escobar and Perdomo punitive damages for its malicious and reckless conduct described above, in amounts to be determined at trial."

The Salvation Army has until June 1st to respond.  The EEOC is asking for a jury trial.

There is a 2003 case, Cosme v. The Salvation Army, 284 F. Supp.2d 229 (D.Mass) in which a judge upheld the Salvation Army English Language policy.  However, there are differences in the cases but as to the English Language issue the judge had the following to say:

"The Salvation Army had several rules relating to employee conduct and protocol, which included an English Language Policy, time sheets, and punctuality.  The Employee's Manual provides a list of behavior constituting unsatisfactory conduct, including provision forty-two, which proscribes

Just as in the present case the court says in the 2003 order  that it appears the Salvation Army supervisor "did not strictly enforce the various rules and policies at the store, including the English Language Policy.  At some point in 1999, however, in response to her fear that employees were taking advantage of her, Guerre''s supervisor suggested she become more strict in enforcing the rules."

Chief District Judge William G. Young said also:

"... The Court, however, is not persuaded by Cosme's argument because the Salvation Army's English Language Policy provides a clear and valid basis for such requests.  Therefore, the question is whether Guerre displayed discriminatory animus against Cosme indirectly.

But Judge Young in the 2003 sided with the Salvation Army, he hardly gave the employee handbook, as it stood back then, a ringing endorsement.  I have been unable to confirm whether or not the handbook has been updated.

"Similarly in this case, the Salvation Army's employee handbook - received by all new employees, thereby providing proper notice - describes the legitimate business reasons for its policy" "to promote workplace harmony by ensuring that employees are able to communicate with customers, coworkers and supervisors: to help managers monitor employees, and to improve productivity and efficiency.... Although this handbook was available only in English and the Salvation Army failed to produce an affidavit or testimony to verify the stated purpose, the Court finds that the Salvation Army has - albeit minimally - complied with EEOC regulations, even if the regulations were binding on this Court...

Reported by:  Helen Hammons