Local News

Wednesday, Dec 08 2010 04:37 PM

Filipino nurses file suit to join federal action against Delano Regional hospital

BY JOHN COX, Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A group of 52 current and former Filipino-American nurses at Delano Regional Medical Center this week filed a lawsuit alleging that they were singled out for enforcement of the hospital's English-only language policy.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Fresno, attempts to join an August lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That suit claims the hospital's actions violate federal civil rights protections.

Both suits allege the workers were subjected to humiliation, intimidation and threats of surveillance. They say the nurses were called to mandatory meetings and ordered to stop speaking Tagolog. Other non-English languages were permitted, the suits claim.

"Despite our loyalty and years of service, we were shocked that (the hospital) singled out Filipino American workers and blatantly discriminated against us," plaintiff Wilma Lamug said in a news release by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Los Angeles-based organization that filed the lawsuit on the employees' behalf.

On Wednesday, Delano Regional issued a statement defending its English-only policy, which it said complies with state and federal laws. It said the policy is "essential to (ensure) proper, safe, timely and consistent medical response and treatment" of patients.

The hospital's statement also denied the workers and federal government's allegations, calling them "ludicrous" and "factually inaccurate."

The government's lawsuit seeks a permanent injunction against future discrimination and changes to hospital policies, as well as unspecified financial compensation for the employees.

Employees hope to join that suit for two reasons, said Julie Su, the legal center's litigation director. They wish to allege violation of state law instead of just federal law, she said, and they personally want to "have their own voices heard."

Su also said that if the court system allows the workers to join the government's suit, there would be no set limit to the monetary damages they could collect -- unlike federal law, which caps how much money the plaintiffs could be awarded if they are found to have suffered emotional distress from working in an intimidating work environment.

Delano Regional is owned by the nonprofit Central California Foundation for Health.

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