The best workplaces are not hard to identify. You will see employees buzzing around and making sure the tasks at hand are done properly; you will see a group of people collaborating and optimizing their processes; and you will find great chemistry amongst the employees, a kind of friendly atmosphere that makes everyone comfortable when they are in the office. This kind of atmosphere allows employees to enjoy their work, while also enjoying the people they work with.
Having such comfort around your coworkers allows you to joke around with them from time to time. Of primary concern here is making sure that the jokes are appropriate -- but many times, they step over the line. One way in which these jokes can cross over into unacceptable territory is when a person's accent or language comprehension is the topic of choice.
It may seem harmless to some, but even the most well-intentioned people can make hurtful remarks about a fellow employee; and other employees can make even more hurtful remarks, which are downright offensive and constitute workplace discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that complaints about workers being discriminated against because of national origin have increased by 76 percent over a 15-year period (from 1997 to 2011). These types of complaints usually involve a person's accent or their ability to speak the English language.
Some companies may use a person's "inability to communicate" as a reason for firing them; or an employee's accent could become the butt of an inside joke. In both cases -- and many other iterations of -- this kind of discrimination can be the basis of a civil lawsuit by the victim. Wrongful termination, hostile workplace and a variety of other civil rights violations can be cited as justification for the lawsuit, which can earn a victim just compensation for the horrible treatment they were forced to endure at work.
Source: Associated Press, "Feds say workplace discrimination complaints rising over language ability, foreign accents," Paul Foy, Nov. 29, 2012