Tenth Circuit Says No Discrimination Where Accent Affected Performance


The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, over Colorado and Wyoming, rejected the national origin discrimination claim of a Filipino nurse who was terminated following her supervisor’s comment that she needed to minimize her foreign accent while on the job. Baltazar v. Shinseki (10th Cir. 2012).

Baltazar was terminated from her position in a Veterans Administration outpatient clinic for ongoing performance concerns, including some involving patient safety. She sued alleging national origin discrimination based on her supervisor’s note in her performance appraisal stating that she needed to work on her accent to ensure patients and staff could understand her.  

The Tenth Circuit ruled that it is acceptable for an employer to consider an employee’s accent as it relates to job requirements without committing unlawful discrimination. The court found that Baltazar’s supervisor did not make the comment maliciously. And, the court ultimately held that Baltazar was terminated for other reasons.

“Claims of national origin discrimination based on an employee’s accent seem to get the immediate attention of civil rights agencies and can be the basis for employer liability,” says attorney Tina Harkness. “Employers should seek counsel for advice on how to address performance issues based on an employee’s accent before disciplining or terminating.”