Can Employers Prohibit Hispanic Employees From Speaking Spanish To Spanish-Speaking Customers?
Having dedicated their practice to fighting for workers’ rights, our Marion County, Florida employee rights attorneys know that many employers maintain speak-English-only policies that prohibit the speaking of Spanish in the workplace. Employer English-only policies adversely impact employees whose primary language is Spanish or whose language of national origin is Spanish. Generally, employers are permitted to implement English-only policies. However, the majority of courts to squarely address the issue have determined that English-only policies cannot prohibit the speaking of Spanish at all times in the workplace, such as during free moments, during meal periods, when making personal telephone calls, or when speaking to a Spanish-speaking customer.
Blanket English-Only Policies Are Discriminatory
In its regulations enforcing the federal anti-discrimination laws, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that a blanket English-only policy is presumed to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII protects employees from discrimination on the basis of national origin. A policy requiring employees to speak English at all times in the workplace, according to the EEOC, may “create an atmosphere of inferiority, isolation, and intimidation based on national origin which could result in a discriminatory work environment.” A national origin discrimination lawsuit recently filed by the EEOC illustrates that a blanket speak-English-only policy which prohibits the speaking of a language other than English on an employer’s premises, including prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish to Spanish-speaking customers, may violate Title VII’s prohibition against national origin discrimination and create a discriminatory hostile work environment.
Employee Claims Discriminatory Harassment
The EEOC filed the national origin discrimination lawsuit, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Albertsons Companies, Inc., Case No. 3:18-cv-852, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California after initially attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its statutorily mandated conciliation process. The EEOC has brought the national origin discrimination lawsuit pursuant to Title VII on behalf of former employees of Albertsons Companies, Inc. (Albertsons), Guadalupe Zamorano (Zamoran) and Hermelinda Stevenson (Stevenson). The EEOC alleges that Zamorano and Stevenson, who are Hispanic, were subjected to national origin harassment based on Albertsons’ enforcement of a blanket speak-English-only policy. National origin harassment is a form of national origin discrimination prohibited by Title VII.
Zamorano and Stevenson worked at Albertsons’ store in San Diego. In 2012, according to the EEOC, Albertsons developed an unwritten English-only policy, which Albertsons implemented as essentially a no-Spanish policy. In a training video, employees were instructed that they should not speak Spanish as long as there was a non-Spanish speaking person present. The Store Director, Brown, of the Albertsons’ store where Zamorano and Stevenson worked implemented a no-Spanish policy. Brown and other supervisors informed Hispanic employees, including Zamorano and Stevenson, that they could not speak Spanish anywhere on the premises. The EEOC alleges that Brown and other employees verbally harassed Zamorano and Stevenson, telling them not to speak Spanish, threatening them with discipline for speaking Spanish, reprimanding them for speaking Spanish.
In October 2012, Brown reprimanded Zamorano and Stevenson for speaking Spanish. After the reprimand, Zamorano called Albertsons’ hotline to complain about Brown’s prohibition against speaking Spanish at work. Upon receipt of Zamorano’s complaint, a union representative investigated the complaint and told Zamorano that she needed to speak English because she was living in the U.S. In December 2012, Zamorano was reprimanded by Brown again for speaking Spanish even though she was speaking with a Spanish-speaking customer. Stevenson was also prohibited by Brown from speaking Spanish during breaks in the break room. As a result of the discriminatory harassment, Zamorano and Stevenson requested transfer to another store.
EEOC Fights Unlawful Harassment
The EEOC is the administrative agency of the United States responsible for interpreting and enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, including national origin discrimination. The EEOC is also authorized by federal law to bring lawsuits on behalf of victims of employment discrimination, including national origin discrimination. In a press release issued by the EEOC regarding the case, a Regional Attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angles District Office, Anna Part, stated that “[e]mployers have to be aware of the consequences of certain language policies” because “[t]argeting a particular language for censorship is often synonymous with targeting a particular national origin, which is illegal and highly destructive to workplace morale and productivity.”
Free Consultation With Ocala Employee Rights Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida employee rights attorneys have almost two decades of experience representing employees. If you have been the victim of hostile work environment harassment or have questions about an employer’s English-only policy, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Marion County, Florida employee rights lawyers. Our employee rights law firm takes hostile work environment harassment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.