U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07) today praised a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives that supported a provision they authored to shield employers who require that English be spoken on the job from being sued for discrimination.
“This is America, and in America we speak English,” said Alexander, a former Secretary of Education. “Since 1906, no immigrant has been able to become an American citizen without learning English. If Congress doesn’t act to stop these frivolous lawsuits, every business in America – from the shoe shop to Wal-Mart – will need to hire lawyers to prove that it has a legitimate reason for requiring employees to speak our national language at work.”
“The Federal government should not be in the business of intimidating private employers, regardless of size or background,” said Blackburn. It should be encouraging English language immersion for recent immigrants, not giving them reasons to take American small businesses to court. Last night, the House took a big step in protecting small businesses from the additional cost associated with frivolous lawsuits. If a business owner speaks English and his customers speak English, it only makes sense to hire employees that speak English in order for the business to survive and flourish.”
The House of Representatives voted last night to instruct House negotiators to accept the position of the Senate regarding a provision in the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2008 that would prevent the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from using any federal funds for the purpose of bringing lawsuits against a company that requires its employees to speak English. The House vote was 218 to 186.
The Senate provision was inserted as an amendment by Alexander last June. Alexander proposed the amendment during a mark-up of the Senate version of the CJS Appropriations bill, and the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted the amendment by a 15 to 14 vote.
Blackburn joined Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-06) in offering the same amendment last July on the House floor during debate on the House version of the CJS Appropriations bill. Though the Stearns-Blackburn Amendment narrowly failed to pass the House by a vote of 202 to 212, it helped set the stage for last night’s vote and negotiations between the House and Senate over the CJS Appropriations bill.
Alexander and Blackburn’s amendments were prompted by a lawsuit filed in April by the EEOC against the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army's employees in a Framingham, Mass., thrift store for requiring them to speak English on the job. The Salvation Army in Massachusetts clearly posted the rule, and the employees were given a year to learn. The EEOC, a federal agency that enforces federal discrimination laws, has a current backlog of approximately 56,000 cases.
At a Senate hearing on the matter in May, Alexander told EEOC Chair Naomi Earp, “I find this to be an astonishing waste of your time and taxpayer money to… by your lawsuit – require every single employer in America to worry that they will face litigation if they require English to be spoken in the workplace.” Alexander also spoke on the Senate floor in May about his intention to offer legislation to protect the rights of employers to require English while engaged in work. “A century ago, many American companies and private associations led an effort to Americanize new immigrants and teach them English. It’s astonishing that anyone is allowed to sue organizations like the Salvation Army for doing the very same thing - insisting that its employees learn and speak our national language,” said Alexander.
House and Senate negotiators are now finalizing the CJS Appropriations bill language for a final vote. Alexander, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is a member of the conference committee that is conducting the negotiations.