English as a Second Language

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An interesting story in today's Fresno Bee:
Jury clears NIBCO's Fresno plant of discrimination
It finds English-only job-skills assessment was valid way to test workers.

A Fresno manufacturing plant did not discriminate when it laid off workers who couldn't get a perfect score on a skills test that was only offered in English, a federal jury found Wednesday.

The unanimous verdict ended a nine-year legal journey for NIBCO Inc., an Indiana-based irrigation-systems manufacturer. The company's lawyers successfully argued that the test was needed to make the plant safer for workers, and to be more competitive.

The jury found that the exam was "a business necessity" and a valid way to test job skills. They also found that the test did not cause the workers to get laid off, and that there was no better alternative to the test.

"We are very, very disappointed," said Fresno attorney William J. Smith, who represented the workers, 23 Hispanic and Southeast Asian women who spoke little or no English. "We had high hopes that we would win this case."
OK - a typical case of the evil corporate overlord oppressing the poor workers. But wait -- there's more:
At Judge Oliver Wanger's invitation after the verdict was read, jurors told attorneys how they came to their decision. They said the workers should have learned English -- especially since NIBCO had offered to pay for the classes.

The jurors also said the company went out of its way to help the workers, giving them a study sheet and three chances to pass the test.

The jury foreman -- Albert Veldstra, a retired Stanislaus County sheriff's deputy -- also said the panel had trouble believing the workers couldn't understand the test, because it required only a sixth-grade reading level.

One of the workers was a Hoover High School graduate, according to testimony. Another frequently read newspapers and magazines. The panel also saw writing samples from some of the workers with correct English, Veldstra said.
Curiouser and curioser... A bit about the company and the reason for the tests:
NIBCO purchased Pepco Water Conservation Products and R.M. Wade and Co. in 1995 and combined the operations of the two plants to make irrigation products. Once it took over, NIBCO turned the part-time employees into full-time ones and gave them raises and health, dental and retirement plans -- benefits that they hadn't had before.

But problems soon arose because raw materials were incorrectly mixed, inventory records were inaccurate, and safety training seldom took place, said NIBCO's lead lawyer, William Hahesy of Fresno. He was assisted by Fresno lawyers Michael Helsley and Sara Hedgepeth-Harris.

The skills tests were given in 1997 and 1998. But as financial losses continued to mount, layoffs came in 1998.
And finally:
The plant shut down in 1999 after losing $14 million. NIBCO still operates 12 manufacturing plants throughout the United States and in Mexico and Poland.
Geezzz -- NIBCO converts the part time employees into full-time, gives them health insurance and benefits, offers to pay for the English classes, gives three chances to pass, offers cheat-sheets for the test and the test is only at a sixth-grade level and the employees who failed bring a lawsuit? Talk about ungrateful fools...

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on November 27, 2008 10:37 AM.

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