Workers Fired for Lacking English Skills They Did Not Need, Federal Agency Charges

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. (WPI), a metal and plastic products manufacturer based in Green Bay, violated federal law by firing a group of Hmong and Hispanic employees because of their national origin, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit it filed today.

According to John Rowe, director of the EEOC’s Chicago District, which includes Wisconsin, the EEOC’s pre-suit administrative investigation revealed that WPI fired the Hmong and Hispanic employees based on 10-minute observations that marked them down for their English skills, even though those skills were not needed to perform their jobs. All of those fired had received satisfactory ratings on their annual performance evaluations while working for WPI’s Modern Plastics Division.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination based on national origin, which includes the linguistic characteristics of a national origin group. The federal agency sued after first trying to resolve the matter without litigation through its statutory conciliation process. The suit, captioned EEOC v. Wisconsin Plastics, Inc. (Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-00663), was filed in federal court in Green Bay and assigned to U.S. District Judge William Griesbach. The EEOC seeks lost wages and compensatory and punitive damages for the discharged employees and injunctive relief to end the discriminatory practices.

“Our experience at the EEOC has been that so-called ‘English only’ rules and requirements of English fluency are often employed to make what is really discrimination appear acceptable,” said EEOC Chicago Regional Attorney John C. Hendrickson. “But superficial appearances are not fooling anyone. When speaking English fluently is not, in fact, required for the safe and effective performance of a job, nor for the successful operation of the employer’s business, requiring employees to be fluent in English usually constitutes employment discrimination on the basis of national origin — and thus violates federal law.”

The EEOC’s Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement, and the conduct of agency litigation in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. Further information about the Commission is available on its website at