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Is it a violation for an employer to fire an employee for…

Customer Question
Is it a violation...

Is it a violation for an employer to fire an employee for having an accent that is "too strong"?

Lawyer's Assistant: Was the termination discussed with a manager or HR? Or with a lawyer?

No

Lawyer's Assistant: Is the workplace "at will" or union? Is the job hourly or salaried?

Let's start over: My wife was hired as an actress to shoot a testimonial style TV endorsement of ...... get this, a local lawyer. This was a non SAG on camera shoot in New Orleans. The director recorded a few takes, then sent her home, complaining to her agent that her Russian accent was too strong. Part of his problem is that she has a fairly light Swedish accent. Not Russian

Lawyer's Assistant: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?

That's a good strating point. Thanks

Submitted: 26 days ago.Category: Employment Law
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Answered in 8 minutes by:
5/27/2018
Employment Lawyer: Allen M., Esq., Employment Lawyer replied 26 days ago
Allen M., Esq.
Allen M., Esq., Employment Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 20,475
Experience: Employment/Labor Law Litigation
Verified

Thank you for trusting your question to JA today. I am a licensed attorney with over a decade of law practice and over 20 years of experience in the legal field. I’m happy to be of assistance.

It depends on the actual reason for the termination. If the reason is "your accent is too strong and I hate accents, so you gotta go" then that is likely going to be a violation of the national original discrimination, and the employee should contact the EEOC in that state to file a complaint.

However, if the reasoning is that her accent does not fit with the message the director is trying to get across or if the director feels that she is not understandable, then it gets into an area of "bona fide occupational requirements." If the employer can point to a legitimate, non-discriminatory basis for the need to have less accent, it can be a legal determination.

Now, where we see this more clearly is when someone has an accent so thick that they cannot be understood, and their job is in customer relations or sales. This is more of an odd situation, where the director could mean here accent was took thick to understand her, but could also mean that her accent was too thick for his artistic vision of the commercial. That can be really difficult to argue with, but it is also more difficult to establish as a legitimate basis for a decision on an actress.

The point is that this is not a black or white answer. It falls pretty squarely in the grey area of the law and would really come down to how it was argued and who the EEOC or members of a jury believed.

If you have any further questions or other facts that you would like me to consider, please let me know. I invite follow up questions, so use REPLY for those. If you have no further questions then good luck going forward and please do not forget to rate my service with a three, a four or preferably a five star rating so that I receive credit for working with you today. Please rate me based on my service and not on your satisfaction with the law, which I am not in control of and I am just reporting to you. Please DON’T rate my service until after you have asked any follow up questions that you have, so that I have the best opportunity to earn all 5 stars. Also, feel free to request me in the future, if you have questions concerning a different matter.

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Customer reply replied 26 days ago
My wife was hired through a talent agent for an on camera job. Once at the place of employment (a one day shoot) the director was working with other actors to voice dailoug lines the director would feed to them, for them to repeat. He did this with two actors before getting to my wife. He spent anout 1/2 an hour recording each actor.
When my wife was called he started the same drill, but stopped very shortly in. Said thank you, we’re done.
Once home her agent called saying her Russian accent was too strong and as he couldn’t use it, he didn’t want to pay, or was looking to reduce the amount.
My wife is Swedish, not Russian and has never been told her accent is too strong.Your thoughts?
Employment Lawyer: Allen M., Esq., Employment Lawyer replied 26 days ago

That doesn't really change the answer I have given. It doesn't matter that he thought she was Russian and she is Swedish. That's not really relevant here.

What matters is whether or not he:

a. Heard her and decided not to work her because he hated where he thought she was from (discrimination).

or

b. Heard her and decided he could not work with her because her voice didn't fit his artistic vision for the piece (bona fide occupational requirement).

One is legal and one is not, and nothing that you have said allows me to KNOW which one it is. You can certainly file a complaint with the EEOC, as I have noted, and force the director to give a reason for his decision.

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Employment Lawyer: Allen M., Esq., Employment Lawyer replied 25 days ago

Hello, I wanted to check in and make sure that there was not any additional information that you required after the response I previously provided to you. If you need further assistance, please use REPLY and ask me for any additional information you may need. If not, take care, have a great day and please don’t forget to rate my service.

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