LAKE FOREST — The general manager of a firm being sued by the federal government for allegedly discriminating against an employee who spoke English with a foreign accent said Saturday that he was surprised by the charge.
Roy Fujishige, general manager of Eiki International, said that he has not heard directly from the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about the litigation. The company, which recently moved its West Coast offices from Laguna Niguel to Lake Forest, sells audiovisual aids. The firm also has an office in Chicago.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, charges that Eiki International violated the civil rights of an employee, who was born in India, when it dismissed him because of the way he spoke English, the New York Times reported Saturday.
The EEOC charged that in dismissing Rambhai Patel from his job, the company told him his accent was a detriment to the company's image.
Federal officials say the firing violates federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of national origin.
Fujishige said Saturday that he could not comment on specifics in the suit since he had not seen any court documents, but nevertheless defended his company's actions in terminating Patel. He denied firing the credit manager because of any difficulty in speaking English.
"I have an accent too," Fujishige said. "It's not about accent or his nationality. It was his performance on the job. That's all I can say right now."
Fujishige criticized the federal agency for releasing details about the lawsuit without first notifying his company.
"I was not aware that this case had been filed," Fujishige said. "So it came to us all of a sudden."
Fujishige did acknowledge, however, that he had known of the EEOC's intention to pursue Patel's complaint in court. In August, he said he spoke with EEOC attorneys, who told him that the complaint was being turned over to the agency's legal department.
"That was the last communication we ever had with the EEOC," Fujishige said.