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Cleaning firm settles national origin bias claim in Hyattsville

The old Woodward & Lothrop Service Warehouse in Washington houses the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Headquarters and Washington Field Office (WFO). (Wikimedia Commons / AgnosticPreachersKid / “Woodward_and_Lothrop_Service_Warehouse” / CC BY-SA 3.0 / cropped and resized)

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) headquarters. (Wikimedia Commons / AgnosticPreachersKid / “Woodward_and_Lothrop_Service_Warehouse” / CC BY-SA 3.0 / cropped and resized)

A nationwide cleaning company will pay $37,500 to settle federal claims a woman was subjected to a derogatory tirade and illegally fired from her janitorial job in Hyattsville because she was an El Salvadoran immigrant with limited command of English, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated last week.

Marta Rivas had been working for Los Angeles-based Blackstone Consulting Inc. for about two months when the company’s local environment services director heard Rivas speaking in Spanish, EEOC stated in its lawsuit filed last year on her behalf.

The director told Rivas in Spanish that Blackstone requires employees to speak English, later adding, “Hispanics don’t do anything in this country – all they do is watch Telemundo and Univision,” EEOC alleged in the complaint in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

The director then fired Rivas, saying she could have her job back if she mastered English within 30 days, EEOC added in is lawsuit alleging national origin discrimination in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Blackstone denied the allegations in agreeing to the settlement. The company did not immediately respond to a telephone message Monday seeking additional comment.

“An employer may require an employee to speak fluent English if it is truly necessary to perform the job effectively,” EEOC District Director Jamie R. Williamson said in a statement announcing the settlement. “In this case, however, the employee was doing her job satisfactorily but was wrongfully terminated because she didn’t speak ‘perfect English’ and that was unlawful national origin discrimination.”

Rivas arrived in the United States from El Salvador in January 2016 and was hired by Blackstone in March 2017, according to the complaint.

Rivas worked the weekday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at the Hyattsville medical center run by the company’s client, Kaiser Permanente. Rivas’ job entailed cleaning offices, kitchens and bathrooms as well as emptying trash, the complaint stated.

At the site, Rivas worked for a Spanish-speaking boss and with a Spanish-speaking co-worker. Rivas performed her work satisfactorily, the complaint added.

The trouble did not begin until May 25, 2017, when Rivas reported to Blackstone’s environmental service department in Largo to get her uniform and was confronted by the department’s director, who no longer works for Blackstone, according to EEOC.

“The EEOC is committed to protecting vulnerable workers from unlawful discrimination,” Debra Lawrence, the agency’s regional attorney, said in a statement. “We are pleased that this settlement compensates her for her losses, protects applicants and employees from national origin discrimination, and that the environmental services director is no longer employed by Blackstone.”

Under its agreement with EEOC, Blackstone will provide Rivas $1,483.76 in back pay and $36,016.24 in compensatory damages. The company will also provide at least three hours of equal employment training for its human resources staff, with special emphasis on preventing national origin discrimination, according to the agreement.

The case was docketed at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt as U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Blackstone Consulting Inc., No. 8:19-cv-03365-GLS.