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Is Accent Discrimination Illegal?

Posted by Samuel A. Wong | Aug 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

In Great Britain, the issue of regional accents are a hot topic. In a country were a “posh” London proper accent is seen as more educated and sophisticated, employees in the United Kingdom attempt to change their thicker region accents to resemble those heard in the capital. When one reflects to that same rhetoric in the United States, we might laugh. We would never discriminate against regional or foreign accents. Or do we?

accent discrimination

In a study and article written in 2002 and 2007 respectively, academics suggest that accents “leads to judgments about ethnicity and socioeconomic status” as well as affect the perception of that person's “intelligence, physical attractiveness, and trust-worthiness.” In the realm of employment law, these inherent perceptions lead to various accent rules that may actual be in violation of the Labor Code.

We recently blogged about English only policies in the work place and when it can be deemed discriminatory. For accents, the same rules more or less applies. Since accents are very closely associated with ethnicity and national origin, accent discrimination is a hot topic in courts.

The law summarizes that fluency and accent rules may be legal if clear oral communication is essential or vital to the position. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides the example of an individual with a foreign accent working at a restaurant. While the person's English language proficiency qualifies for a cashier position, his or her written skills may not be developed enough to perform managerial duties that include written documentation to government agencies or to perform written evaluation. In that case, the employer is not discriminating based on fluency and accent, but on the necessity of the job to have clear communication.

However, back in 2012, truck driver and Russian immigrant Ismail Aliyev was fired strictly for his accent, he alleges. Aliyev worked as a contract driver for FedEx and was written up on multiple occasions for his “inability to speak English.” These violations and write ups could never be produced. Though he has a heavy Russian accent, Aliyev stated, “I think for a driver, my English is not too bad.”

If you believe your accent is being discriminated against for any reason, contact an Aegis attorney.

Source: Nolo, Insurance Journal, J.N. Fuertes, and Intuition 

About the Author

Samuel A. Wong

Samuel A. Wong is a renowned Orange County trial lawyer and a Co-Founder of Aegis Law Firm. Mr. Wong has spent his entire career litigating employment related matters, including wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, wage, disability and medical leave cases. Mr. Wong is also an expert ...


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