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The Basics of Language Discrimination Following Recent NYC Transit Authority Lawsuit

In a recent lawsuit filed by five non-English speaking plaintiffs against the New York City Transit Authority, allegations of unlawful discrimination and unequal treatment have highlighted an emerging trend in America’s most diverse city: language discrimination.

The concept of language discrimination involves any mistreatment, inequality, or unequal access to resources against individuals for whom English is not their primary dialect. Referred to in the lawsuit as limited English proficiency (LEP) individuals, this class is gaining increasing traction in the emerging legal notion of language-based discrimination and may eventually set the stage for an expansion of the defined protected classes.

However, for now, LEP’s are not considered a distinct class of protected individuals for purposes of discrimination and equal protection claims. Nonetheless, as today’s case points out, many LEP’s also identify with other characteristics that are considered one of the protected classes, and are therefore afforded additional shelter from unfair treatment and marginalization.

Let’s Examine the Details of the Case Against the NYC Transit Authority

The case filed against the NYC Transit Authority involves its “Access-a-Ride” program, which is designed to help transport elderly and disabled New Yorkers who are unable to provide their own transportation and/or are physically unable to travel throughout the city. The Access-a-Ride program involves a complex application process, complete with a thorough questionnaire, in-person interview and a test of the applicant’s physical and mental capabilities.

However, the Transit Authority does not provide applicants with the benefit of a translator or interpreter for any of these services, resulting in the applicant having to secure his or her own interpreter or endure the testing using limited English skills. In their petition, plaintiffs allege that this practice amounts to not only language discrimination, but discrimination against those with a disability in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and comparable New York state laws.

In essence, plaintiffs assert that denying LEP’s access to a translator could potentially result in a denial of this much-needed benefit which would effectively violate the applicants’ rights to equal treatment.

Deciding Discrimination Lawsuits in New York

Our discrimination lawyers frequently work with clients not unlike the five plaintiffs enduring the hardships and difficulties of applying for access to the New York City “Access-a-Ride” system. Under New York law, discrimination lawsuits are a vehicle by which plaintiffs belonging to a protected class can seek restitution for the harm experienced as a result of the mistreatment.

Discrimination may be perpetrated at the hands of an employer, co-worker, government entity, landlord or private business. Currently the following categories are considered protected classes in New York:

  • Race
  • Creed
  • Color
  • Age
  • National origin, alienage or citizenship status
  • Gender and gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • Pregnancy
  • Marital status

While “native language” is not currently listed as a basis for discrimination, it is not difficult to imagine how this sort of mistreatment could fall within one of the protected classes already in place, especially discrimination based on national origin, citizenship, or alienage.

Contact Lynch Schwab for Assistance With Your Discrimination Case

The Westchester County discrimination lawyers of Lynch Schwab are just a phone call away. If you are experiencing any kind of discrimination – including any of the categories listed above – we would love the opportunity to meet with you and discuss your case. To set up a consultation, call (914) 304-4353 today.


Posted on March 11, 2015 in Sexual Harassment and Discrimination