Alexander to Submit Legislation to Require English in Workplace: ‘Not Discrimination; It’s Common Sense’

‘Our Common Language Helps Unite the Diversity in This Nation of Immigrants’

Posted on May 7, 2007

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today announced plans to introduce legislation that would shield employers who require that English be spoken on the job from being sued for discrimination. Alexander also pledged to reintroduce immigration legislation, which passed the Senate last year by a vote of 91-1, that would provide every legal adult immigrant a $500 voucher for English instruction and grant expedited citizenship to those who gain fluency. “In America, requiring English in the workplace is not discrimination; it's common sense,” Alexander said. “Over the last 40 years I have voted for or supported, I believe, almost every civil rights or anti-discrimination law that has been offered. But since 1906, no immigrant has been able to become an American citizen without learning English.” “At Hillsboro High School in Nashville, where my daughter graduated, students speak 28 native languages,” Alexander added. “But classes are conducted in English. I can think of nothing that would be more in our national interest than helping anyone in our country learn our common language.” Last month, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army's employees in a Boston-area thrift store by requiring them to speak English on the job, despite the fact that the rule was clearly posted and the employees were given a year to learn. “This lawsuit means that every business in America – from the shoe shop to Wal-Mart – will need to hire lawyers to prove that it has a legitimate business purpose if it wants to require employees to speak our national language while at work,” said Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education. “I intend to introduce legislation to put an end to these lawsuits by making it clear that requiring employees to speak English is not illegal discrimination, as long as the policy is clearly posted.” “We Americans are rightly proud of our diversity, but Iraq and Jerusalem and the Balkans are also diverse. America's greatest accomplishment is not our magnificent diversity but that we have united that diversity into one country. Our original national motto is, ‘One from Many.’ Not ‘Many from One’,” Alexander said. “A century ago, many American companies and private associations led an effort to Americanize new immigrants. They taught their employees English and the National Anthem. Today, the EEOC is suing the Salvation Army for doing the very same thing, insisting that its employees learn and speak this country's common language. That is not only an astonishing waste of the EEOC's time and taxpayer money – the agency has a backlog of 56,000 cases – but it is also contrary to everything we know about the importance of achieving unity in our country.”