County Health Directors Memo Draws Scrutiny

Marilyn-Pearson-FIA memo Johnston County Health Department Director Dr. Marilyn Pearson wrote to managers and supervisors in her office is now drawing attention outside the agency.

Pearson, who was named the NC Health Director of the Year, issued a memo to employees on October 1st telling staff members to only speak English “…during the normal course of business when not dealing with non-English speaking clients.”

“For the comfort of employees and the respectful of others who do not share that language, staff are asked to speak English in the office when not on breaks or personal times,” Pearson wrote.

The title of email was “Addressing Staff Concern.”

The email was sent to about two dozen people. 

WTSB Radio reached out to Dr. Pearson for her side of the story. In an email she told WTSB, “Given the nature of the services provided by the Johnston County Health Department, I requested employees to speak English during the normal course of business when not dealing with non-English speaking clients and when not on breaks or personal time.  The basis of my request was to promote efficiency in the services we provide and to ensure the protection of confidential and other sensitive patient and client information.”


Johnston County Manager Rick Hester told WTSB, “Dr. Pearson and her team do a great job providing public health care in Johnston County. From what I understand, the email was related to HIPPA and patient privacy concerns.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does regulate and investigate English-only language policies in the workplace.  The English-only language rule may be justified if the business can show it is a necessity.  However, if the policy creates a hostile work enforcement for non-English speaking workers, it could be considered a violation of the law.