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. †