Most employers are aware that national origin is one of the protected classes under federal and state discrimination laws. But did you know that it is not discriminatory to ask someone who has an accent to clarify what they said or to inquire about his or her accent so long as it is not disrespectful or harassing?
In a recent case: Park v. VA, et al., No. 14-1063, 3rd Cir., 2014, the plaintiff who was of Korean national origin and possessed an accent that was difficult to understand, claimed that one supervisor criticized her inability to say “odor” and “order” differently. Plaintiff believed that in general her supervisor made light of her pronunciation efforts. She filed suit against the company and supervisor and alleged discrimination based upon national origin.
The court disagreed, reasoning that a heavy accent may interfere with smooth communication and commenting on the accent isn’t discriminatory unless it’s pervasive, frequent and offensive. Thus, plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of discrimination.
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