Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, today issued the following statement following the Senate’s passage of his amendment to prevent small businesses from being prosecuted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for requiring their employees to speak English on the job:
“Several things unite us as Americans – our common history, the principles in our founding documents, and our common language – and the federal government ought to be consistently on the side of valuing that common language and not on the side of devaluing it. This is a victory in the effort to promote English as our national language and protect business owners from frivolous lawsuits. The approval of this amendment is a vote for the uniting of America.”
Alexander’s amendment would provide $670,000 to the Department of Education’s English Literacy/Civics Education State Grant Program to promote the teaching of English and civics to immigrants. The money would come from funding used by the EEOC to prosecute organizations like the Salvation Army for requiring English in the workplace. The amendment passed the Senate by a vote of 54-44.
There were 125 “English Only” charges filed with the EEOC in FY06, up nearly fourfold since FY96. In one well-known case, in March 2007 the 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.
In June 2007, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an Alexander amendment to the FY08 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill to bar the EEOC from filing lawsuits against employers who require their employees to speak English while on the job. That Alexander amendment was added to the CJS appropriations bill which passed the full Senate by a vote of 75 to 19 on October 16.
On November 8, the House of Representatives – with the support of 36 Democrats – voted to instruct its members of the House-Senate conference committee negotiating the final CJS appropriations bill to defer to the Senate position on this issue. However, the speaker of the House canceled the CJS appropriations conference over this issue, and the EEOC measure was left out of the final FY08 omnibus appropriations legislation that funded the EEOC.