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Can an Employer Give Preference to a Bilingual Job Applicant?

Lexology (11/16/15) Michael C. Wilhelm

A recent federal court case has demonstrated that an applicant’s bilingual language abilities can serve as a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale for a hiring decision. In George v. Hennepin County, the plaintiff filed an age discrimination lawsuit after the employer hired a younger candidate for the position he had applied for. The younger candidate was already working at the clinic and had demonstrated the ability to work well with the office’s Spanish-speaking clients. The clinic considered her Spanish abilities sufficient enough for her to qualify as bilingual, and hired her over the 51-year-old plaintiff, who had limited Spanish language ability.

The plaintiff argued, among other things, that the clinic discriminated against her because it did not contact her to determine the extent of her Spanish language abilities, as it did for the younger candidate. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument, reasoning that the record amply supported the clinic’s need for a bilingual hygienist. The court also found that the clinic adequately explained why it contacted the younger candidate for a better explanation of her Spanish speaking abilities based on prior experience with the younger candidate. As such, the court dismissed the claims on summary judgment.