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Baltimore Hospital Fires Four Filipinas for Speaking Tagalog

By June 27, 2010

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Oh, dear. Four Filipina nurses at a Baltimore hospital say they were fired for speaking their native tongue--Tagalog.

"They claimed they heard us speaking in Pilipino and that is the only basis of the termination," former Bon Secours Hospital nurse Hachelle Natano told ABS-CBN News. †"It wasn't because of my functions as a nurse. There were no negative write-ups, no warning before the termination."

In fall of 2009, the hospital implemented an English-only language policy for emergency room nurses to ensure that no lapses of communication occur between nurses of different ethnic backgrounds. The Filipinas fired by Bon Secours acknowledge signing the agreement but characterized the policy as unclear and broad in scope.

"If you speak just a single Tagalog word and someone hears you, that can be grounds for termination which is what happened to our nurses," explained the women's lawyer, Arnedo Valera. "All it takes [to lose your job] is just one word. That can be a greeting, a remark or even the name of a Filipino dish."

One of the women, Jazziel Granada, said she's unsure what Tagalog word she uttered to lose her job. The women say that Bon Secours has failed to offer up any documentation of their alleged transgressions. Moreover, Granada said she worked as a secretary, so an accidental lapse into Tagalog could in no way have endangered patients' lives. †

Valera is arguing that the nurses were let go without due process and that the hospital's English-only policy infringed on their rights.† I agree with him. †English is the only language I speak fluently, but I've been around enough bilingual and multilingual speakers to know that sometimes they slip into their native languages without consciously choosing to do so. Being fired for saying a word or two in a language other than English seems like overkill. †If hospital officials had documented the women speaking Tagalog in a manner that would put patients at risk, that would be one thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. So, why fire the women? Why not simply give them a verbal warning?

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time a hospital has fired employees for not speaking English. ABS-CBN News reports that five years ago the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission led a federal lawsuit against a New York hospital on behalf of five Hispanic housekeepers who were let go for saying "hasta la vista" as they left work. Fired for saying goodbye in Spanish? Seriously?

Such cases reveal that xenophobia remains alive and well in the United States. Monolingual English-speaking Americans resent those who speak other languages for pretty shallow reasons, in my opinion. Some fear that people are speaking badly of them in another language. Others resent having to "press 1" for English when using a company's automated service. And many have no objection other than that "this is America." They forget, however, that America has always been a multilingual nation. Parts of the U.S. were once Mexico, of course, and others were colonized by the French and Europeans from elsewhere. †What's more is that this country was at one time exclusively inhabited by indigenous peoples who spoke a variety of languages.

All in all, it seems like an especially bad move for American hospitals to fire staffers for not speaking English. This is because the U.S. has suffered a nursing shortage for years and nations such as the Philippines, India and Nigeria have helped America by supplying a steady stream of medical personnel. Given this, Bon Secours' move amounts not only to alleged racial discrimination but to biting the hand that feeds it. †

Thanks to Feministing and Angry Asian Man for tipping me off to this story.


June 28, 2010 at 2:53 am
(1) Hera Styles says:

I respect everyoneís opinion but Iím going to have to disagree with you on this one. I am a registered nurse and as one I have witnessed and been a part of several situations where people have said things in English that, had they not been corrected would have played out as a hazard to someoneís life. So I can only imagine how much worse it would be if we didnít know what was being said and it was something harmful, untrue or incorrect that could harm a patient or other employees! You said something about how youíd understand if the hospital officials had documented the women speaking Tagalog in a manner that would put patients at risk but thatís just the point. They couldnít document something like that because they wouldnít have understood what was being said and thatís the point, right? Thatís why this happened. They are trying to minimize the risk of them doing this at a time when it is crucial for others to know whatís being said! Life and death is surely more important than a personís job!

You also mentioned that there are people who sometimes slip into their native languages without consciously choosing to do so. This is true but there are also people who are used to all sorts of things but they are required and usually succeed in dropping them as soon as they get to work. So I can understand if one or two words slipped out but if someone is conducting a whole conversation in another language when itís required that they speak in English then thatís a different story. Mainly because when we work somewhere we are not being paid to do what we want to do, we are paid to do what our employers are hiring us to do. If we have a problem with what weíre told to do, then we need to work someplace else. Eventually that employer will either get an employee whoís willing to accommodate them or no one will work for them at all. But itís definitely not for us to modify what weíre being paid to do. Just my opinion though.*****

June 28, 2010 at 10:45 am
(2) Rachael says:

Speaking the name of the hospital requires speaking a non-English languate–or is French exempt?

June 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm
(3) Andrew says:

Hera Styles, there are thousands of medical professionals being stationed all across America from different countries every year. The fact is, homegrown Red, White and Blue nurses are becoming scarce in number and the country has had to widen its doors to Overseas Foreign Workers. Before any of them get into the country they have to pass an English proficiency test among a plethora of other proofs to their abilities. They’re allowed to work in America.
Secondly, one can’t just “leave” a whole language at home. It’s not a personal “problem.” Language puts the world into words. Now with those two said, can you honestly weigh out the scarcity of medical professionals with the proud American fine-print condition of making people conform purely to English? Nonsense. Verbal warning would have been sufficient.
Firing them was harsh. There’s a consequence to hiring OFW’s. Deal with it.

June 28, 2010 at 11:36 pm
(4) Doris says:

And I’m sure the policy is being implemented in a racially discriminatory manner. If a white, non-Hispanic person had said “hasta la vista” at the end of her shift, would she have been fired at that NY hospital?

July 7, 2010 at 12:31 am
(5) Jon says:

Okay, I can certainly understand why, when performing duties that could have life and death results, it is necessary for everyone to speak the same language. The analog that immediately comes to mind is air traffic control. English is the official language of air travel. A single language policy in hospitals is an understandable safety precaution with a justifiable business purpose.

However, if the policy is too broad, or enforced in too extreme a manner, it could become discriminatory. What is to happen when a monolingual, non-English proficient patient comes to the hospital? Hospitals typically have interpreters available to assist such patients in understanding doctor’s instructions or to help patients convey answers to doctors’ questions. So, surely, there are times when it is allowed, even necessary, to speak a language other than English in the hospital. For the policy to be enforced so stringently that a single, innocuous, utterance of non-English would result in dismissal from one’s job is unreasonable. I’m not an attorney, but this sounds like a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on, among other things, national origin in hiring or firing. The need to correctly convey essential medical information is a justifiable business purpose but if the English-only policy is enforced in a blanket way, during breaks, in restrooms, or outside the building, and violation of the policy results in being fired, that’s discriminatory!

Who knows whether xenophobia is underlying the firing of these hospital staffers, but clearly ethnocentrism is at work. If the hospital has failed to properly document the incidents of policy violation, then they can’t reasonably expect the dismissals to stand the scrutiny of an EEOC investigation.

July 7, 2010 at 8:05 pm
(6) Rick Miller says:

An “English only” policy is DANGEROUS AND ILLEGAL because it denies access to non-English-speaking citizens.

People who implement such policies are obviously forgetting that proficiency in English has never been a condition for citizenship in the United States of America.

December 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm
(7) Greg says:

Hera Styles, you are a moron. Read the article, it states that one of the women fired was a secretary, not a medical staffer. Secondly, the policy only applied to ER personnel, and the article never stated if any of the nurses worked in the ER. Thirdly, even if they did work in the ER, the hospital should still be able to make some sort of documented claim for dismissal, such as a time and date and circumstance where the person(s) broke the policy and why it was a safety issue. The hospital has failed to do this and will surely lose when this issue makes it to court.

The real truth is the hospital admins were probably worried about the filipinas talking about them while they couldn’t understand it. I’ve seen this exact scenario before in the military where a naval officer demanded all the filipinos (about 9 of them I think) in his office only speak english at work because he was a bigot, not because it might interfere with work.

First, most filipinos grow up learning english in school, but in daily life they use a mixture of Tagalog and English that they refer to as Taglish. I work with two filipinas in the medical field and they both speak excellent english, but will often slip into tagalog in order to speak more comfortably and make sure they understand each other correctly.

There is a dramatic shortage of nurses and licensed PT’s in the US, and countries like the Phillipines are thankfully helping to meet that need. Unfortunately many of the lazy, old-school RN’s like yourself feel threatend by these intelligent hard-working men and women, because they are a real threat to your job. They work harder, complain less, and constantly strive to improve themselves and thier position in this world. I’m sure you find that sort of work ethic threatening to your status quo.

I a born US citizen with ancestry from Ireland and Scotland, and I love my country. True we are made up of immigrants, but I still find it annoying as hell to “press 1″ for english. But filipina nurses aren’t the reason we have to do that. They all speak english. The problem is the lazy wetbacks from south of our own border that refuse, after multiple generations sometimes, to learn even basic english, and we are forced to spend millions on bi-lingual documentation, interpreters and other systems to accomodate their unwillingess to learn and integrate themselves fully into our society.

February 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm
(8) mycomment says:

I think it is disgusting that these people come here take over our hospitals systems send money back to their own country they could care less about the usa, and want to run things there way and exclude americans.
I hope the day comes when these people are weeded out of our system they are a sham and a stain on nursing in america

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