Is a No-Spanish Policy Discriminatory?

Posted on May 16, 2018 by Elaine I. Hogan
Is a No-Spanish Policy Discriminatory?

the situation

A retail company rolls out a new policy prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish in front of customers.  At one store, a manager takes it a step further and tells employees they are not to speak Spanish at all while on store premises, even if on break.  Does this constitute national origin discrimination?

the ruling

Yes, according to the EEA retail company rolls out a new policy prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish in front of customers.  At one store, a manager takes it a step further and tells employees they are not to speak Spanish at all while on store premises, even if on break.  Does this constitute national origin discrimination? OC.  The EEOC filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Albertsons under similar circumstances.  EEOC v. Albertsons Companies, Inc., et al., Case No. 3:18-cv-00852.

According to the complaint, in 2012, Albertson’s developed an unwritten English-only policy, which was essentially a no-Spanish policy.  Managers were shown a training video which instructed them that employees should not speak Spanish if there were any non-Spanish people present.  Based on this, the store director of an Albertsons store in San Diego implemented an across-the-board no-Spanish policy.  He told a number of Hispanic employees that they could not speak Spanish anywhere on the premises, no matter whether they were working or on a break.

The EEOC claims that this store director subsequently harassed the Hispanic workers, publicly reprimanding them for speaking Spanish and threatening them with discipline.  At least one of the Hispanic workers complained, but Albertsons took no action.  According to the EEOC, the Hispanic employees claim that they suffered significant anxiety and emotional distress.

the point

Certainly, this would have been a different situation had Albertsons merely required their employees to speak English to English-speaking customers.  But here, Albertsons went a step further—even prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish while off the clock.  Albertsons now faces a lawsuit demanding back pay and front pay, emotional distress damages and punitive damages, along with injunctive relief.  Employers should be very careful when implementing a new policy which impacts any protected class more than another.

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