The housekeepers at the University of the Incarnate Word were subjected to an unlawful English-only rule and "harassed" because of their national origin in violation of federal civil rights laws, according to EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro.
"As employers face the challenge of a rapidly changing workforce, they will serve themselves well by creating work environments that are conductive to diversity and putting strategies in place to ease racial and ethnic tensions," she said in a statement.
Castro said the agreement was the largest known monetary settlement of a lawsuit concerning an English-only rule in the workplace.
The settlement approved by a federal judge calls for the university to pay $1 million to the 18 former employees. In addition, the university agreed to provide the 18 tuition waivers valued at $1.44 million for use by the former workers or their close relatives.
The consent decree also calls for a three-year injunction prohibiting Incarnate Word from implementing and enforcing an English-only rule in the workplace and from discriminating on the basis of national origin.
In a statement, Incarnate Word denied ever participating in any discrimination against it former employees and said the settlement did not imply or acknowledge any wrongdoing. It said the complaints were related to a decision several years ago to outsource its housekeeping service.
Louis J. Agnese Jr., Incarnate Word president, said the 120-year-old university was recognized nationally and internationally as a minority-serving institution, not only in its academic programs but also in its hiring and employment practices.
"The current staff of the university is 68 percent minority, while the faculty minority percentage has increased to 29 percent," he said. "Our mission challenges us to employ a workforce that reflects the rich diversity of our community and our world. We are proud of our record of meeting that challenge."
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