In 2015, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), after investigating a charge, filed a lawsuit against Antonella’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, alleging its co-owner Angelo Dellicarpini violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Hispanic employees of the popular upstate restaurant claimed in their charge that Dellicarpini engaged in a pattern of discrimination and harassment based on their national origin.
After trying to negotiate an agreement between the parties, the EEOC said the attempts were unsuccessful. The agency filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Hispanic employees in the Southern District of New York. In the complaint, the EEOC notified the court that it was seeking punitive damages, back pay and other remedies.
The parties signed a settlement agreement which the District Court entered June 22, 2017. Under the terms of the consent decree, Antonella’s agreed to pay $50,000 to the victims of discrimination.
Title VII addresses employment discrimination. It prohibits employers and business owners from discriminating against employees or applicants based on individual characteristics like sex, religion, race, and national origin. Title VII forbids discrimination in any area of employment including hiring, firing, pay, training and more. Employment discrimination covers harassment based on the above mentioned characteristics. Harassment includes treating people differently or poorly because of a foreign accent, ethnicity or being from a foreign country.
The EEOC states on its web page about national origin discrimination:
“It is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent or ethnicity. Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision.” https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/nationalorigin.cfm
Title VII also prohibits the implementation of a policy that applies to everyone but has an adverse effect on workers who are of a certain national origin, unless that policy is “necessary to the operation of the business” or “job-related.”
According to the complaint filed by Hispanic workers, Antonella’s harassed the employees based on their national origin beginning in 1995 when the restaurant opened. The employees alleged they had to endure racial slurs, name calling, and unfavorable treatment which created a hostile work environment.
For harassment to be unlawful, it must result in a hostile work environment or uncomfortable working conditions. The harassing conduct must be pervasive or severe enough that a reasonable person would find it intimidating, offensive, hostile or abusive. Racial slurs and name calling over a period of time can certainly result in a hostile work environment.
The employees also alleged in their complaint that they feared Dellicarpini would fire them if they voiced their concerns about the mistreatment.
Dellicarpini had a policy requiring all employees to speak English at work. The EEOC could not find any business reason for this policy. Additionally, the Poughkeepsie Journal reported that Dellicarpini was fluent in Spanish and, therefore, able to communicate with his Hispanic workers.
The EEOC specifically addresses the issue of English-only policies. It states “An employer can only require an employee to speak fluent English if fluency in English is necessary to perform the job effectively. An “English-only rule,” which requires employees to speak only English on the job, is only allowed if it is needed to ensure the safe or efficient operation of the employer’s business and is put in place for nondiscriminatory reasons.”
Although this matter never went before a jury, Antonella’s agreed in its settlement to institute policies, training, and problem-solving procedures. The EEOC hopes that the result will be the prevention of future national origin discrimination. At the same time, the workers will receive $50,000.
In the EEOC’s press release issued June 22, 2017, their New York District Director Kevin Berry stated, “This case exemplifies the EEOC’s commit¬ment to enforcing our laws when employers discriminate against any employees, including especially vulnerable, low-wage workers in a restaurant kitchen.”
Attorneys at Leeds Brown Law, P.C., representing workers in New York City and Long Island, handle all types of employment discrimination matters. If you or your co-workers have experienced discrimination or harassment based on your national origin, race, sex or religion, contact our office for a free consultation. Someone is here to take your call 24/7so don’t wait. Call now to speak with an employment discrimination lawyer in New York. 1-800-585-4658.