Legal Discourse across Cultures 175
Legal Discourse across Cultures JANET AINSWORTH Linguistic Ideology in the Workplace: the Legal Treatment in American Courts of Employers’ ‘English-only’ Policies 1. Introduction As the American workforce has become increasingly ethnically di- verse in the past few decades, employers have faced challenges in managing their workplaces. In the course of maintaining their busi- nesses, employers have responded to these challenges by adopting a variety of policies and practices to promote efficient and harmonious work environments. At times, however, employer attempts to regulate the workplace may cross the line and constitute legally impermissible discrimination. Under American civil rights law, workers are pro- tected from discrimination in the workplace based on such categories as their race and national origin, but are not explicitly protected from discrimination resulting from the language they speak (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). Of course, as an empirical fact, the use by a worker of a language other than English is often correlated with that worker’s race or national origin (Perea 1994). Given that nexus be- tween language usage and membership in a class protected under civil rights law, the question is whether it is legal for private employers to impose ‘English only’ requirements in the workplace and to discipline and even fire workers for speaking languages other than English. These so-called ‘English-only’ rules are distinct from threshold English language competence requirements that might be imposed as job criteria. Clearly, many jobs can only be competently performed by workers with a degree of proficiency...
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