Officials at Delano Regional Medical Center insisted they did nothing wrong and settled the lawsuit only because it made financial sense. Under terms of the settlement, however, the hospital must conduct antidiscrimination training and hire a monitor to track workplace conduct.
The case, filed in 2010, involved 69 immigrants who said they suffered "constant harassment and humiliation when they opened their mouths, or talked with family members on the phone," said Anna Park, a Los Angeles-based attorney for the commission. She said nurses were banned from speaking Tagalog and other dialects in break rooms, hallways, and the cafeteria.
"They were always telling us: 'Ssshhh. English only. English only.' I felt embarrassed, ashamed," said Elnora Cayme, who worked at the hospital for more than 27 years.
"I was so angry we were being followed by housekeepers and security guards," she said. "I asked the guard why he did that and he said, 'We were told to watch you and report you.' "
During a 2006 mandatory meeting for Filipino staffers, nurses were told they were forbidden from using their native language at "any time in the hospital," said Wilma Lumag, a former 10-year employee.
She said the hospital's former chief executive vowed that "he would install surveillance cameras in nursing stations. Whoever is caught, they were threatened with suspension or termination," Lumag said. "Sometimes, we were speaking English, but due to our accent and diction, they thought we were speaking something else."
The language policy created such a hostile work environment that one worker even sprayed air freshener on a Filipino employee's lunch to register his "hatred for Filipino food," Park said.
Hospital administrators denied wrongdoing, according to a statement Monday, saying it "made no financial sense for the hospital to continue this lawsuit and further waste valuable assets which could be better spent on the community's health-care needs."