A dozen Spanish-speaking custodial workers at the Auraria Higher Education Center filed formal grievances with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Wednesday against their employer.
The group is charging AHEC with national origin discrimination, saying a lack of communication in their native language has resulted in unfair working conditions.
Tim Markham, an attorney representing the group, said issues have ranged from the janitors being pricked by needles to changes in scheduling that have led to pay decreases.
All of the problems, Markham said, have resulted because AHEC, the umbrella organization for the campus shared by Metropolitan State University of Denver, the University of Colorado Denver and the Community College of Denver, won't communicate with the workers in Spanish.
"Until you address that, you can't engage on the specific issues," he said.
Blaine Nickeson, an AHEC vice president, said that he couldn't comment specifically on the grievances because they hadn't received notification of the filing. However, he said, AHEC was aware that some members of the custodial staff were unhappy.
"We have a staff of over 100 custodians, and a small group of them were dissatisfied with changes that were made about a year and a half ago," Nickeson said. "There were recourses available to them, and they took the opportunity to use them; however, the issues weren't resolved to their satisfaction."
That group went through state-sponsored mediation.
Nickeson said AHEC's human resource department offers some translation services, but Markham said that is not sufficient, saying other universities, such as the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Colorado at Boulder provide their policies, procedures — even disciplinary actions — in numerous languages.
Last fall, some custodial workers were laid off and others had their hours changed, resulting in an almost 3 percent pay cut. Markham said the workers signed off on the changes unknowingly because they were presented to them in English.
Nickeson countered that there was nothing for the group to approve or disapprove of.
"It was a decision made by the state. The employees weren't asked about it," he said. "Notice was given to them. It wasn't about asking them to confirm or reject the changes."
The EEOC is expected to conduct interviews with the workers within the next two weeks.The commission can also offer mediation in the hopes of reaching a settlement. If no agreement is reached, the EEOC could dismiss the case or decide to file charges and litigate.