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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Is Telling Hispanic Employees Not To Speak Spanish Evidence Of Discriminatory Intent?

People of different nationalities, gender and age standing together as a symbol of friendship and tolerance. No discrimination and racism concept. Symbol of peace and freedom. Vector illustration

For the past twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida employment lawyers have fought for the rights of employment discrimination victims. Having represented employment discrimination victims for decades, our Inverness, Florida employment attorneys know that employers often instruct Hispanic employees not to speak Spanish in the workplace. In this article, our Citrus County, Florida employment lawyers explain how the recent decision in Bautista v. Chanel, Inc., 2022 WL 374496 (S.D. N.Y. Feb. 8, 2022) illustrates that telling Hispanic employees not to speak Spanish in the workplace is evidence of an employer’s discriminatory intent.

English-Only Policies

In E.E.O.C. v. Premier Operator Services, Inc., 113 F.Supp.2d (N.D. Tex. 2000), the court observed that “[s]peak English-only rules tend to impact people whose national origin is from non-English speaking countries more heavily than it affects others.” “While English-only rules may be seen as facially neutral,” the Premier Operator court  explained, “they disproportionately burden national origin minorities because they preclude many members of these groups from speaking the language in which they are best able to communicate, while rarely, if ever, having that effect on non-minority employees.”

Courts have consistently ruled that an English-only policy that prohibits employees from speaking any language besides English in the workplace at all times violates federal employment discrimination law’s prohibition against national origin discrimination. An English-only policy that prohibits employees from speaking any language besides English only at certain times in the workplace is permitted, but only if the employer can demonstrate that the English-only policy is justified by business necessity. For example, courts have upheld English-only policies that apply only at certain times based on safety concerns.

When an employer does not have a blanket English-only policy and only prohibits some employees from speaking another language in the workplace, such a restriction is evidence of the employer’s discriminatory intent. For example, if an employer only prohibits Hispanic employees from speaking Spanish in the workplace but does not prohibit other employees from speaking another language, the difference in treatment is evidence of the employer’s discriminatory intent. Under such circumstances, only prohibiting Hispanic employees from speaking another language cannot justified by business necessity.

Employment Discrimination Lawsuit

In Bautista,  a man named Bautista brought a national origin discrimination claim against his former employer, Chanel, Inc. (Chanel), pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of national origin. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined the term “national origin” for Title VII purposes as the country where a person was born, or, more broadly, the country from which his or her ancestors came. Bautista claims that Chanel terminated him because of his national origin in violation of Title VII.

From May 2015 until January 17, 2019, Bautista was employed by Chanel at its Saks Fifth Avenue boutique. Bautista’s direct supervisor was a woman named Papaioannou. Bautista claims that Papaioannou discriminated against him because Bautista is from Ecuador and speaks English with a thick accent. For example, Bautista alleges that in September 2017, Papaioannou mocked his accent during a meeting with him. After giving him work-related instructions, Papaioannou allegedly ended the meeting by asking him, “Comprende?” Bautista testified that Papaioannou’s tone was “condescending . . . like a child, when you talk to a child.”

Worker Told Not To Speak Spanish

On three occasions in 2017 and 2018, Papaioannou opened three investigations into Bautista’s sales conduct, none of which had merit. Around the same time as the third investigation, Papaioannou approached Bautista and two other Spanish-speaking employees and told the group that they were not to speak Spanish at the counter unless they were assisting a Spanish-speaking customer. Papaioannou issued his instruction to the Spanish-speaking employees even though Chanel did not have a corporate English-only policy. Shortly after telling Bautista not to speak Spanish at the counter, Papaioannou told Bautista that he was not permitted to speak Spanish at the counter because “this is a work environment.” During the litigation, Papaioannou testified that she meant “clients are constantly walking by, Saks management is walking by, so we just want to keep it professional, like speaking English at the counter.”

In February 2018, Bautista made a complaint of discrimination against Papaioannou. Bautista claimed that Papaioannou admonished only Spanish-speaking employees and not other employees who spoke French and Chinese. In January 2018, Chanel, based on allegations made by Papaioannou, terminated Bautista’s employment.

Evidence Of Discriminatory Intent

Chanel filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Bautista’s national origin discrimination claim. The trial court denied Chanel’s motion for dismissal and ruled that a reasonable jury could find that Bautista was fired because of his national origin in violation of Title VII. In denying Chanel’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on Papaioannou alleged discriminatory remarks. The trial court observed out that Papaioannou gave Bautista work-related instructions and confirmed his understanding by asking “Comprende?” in a condescending tone. The trial court also pointed out that Papaioannou told Bautista and two other Spanish-speaking employees that they were not to speak Spanish at the counter, even though Chanel not having a corporate English-only policy and other employees who spoke languages other than English “were not similarly admonished.” The trial court further noted that Papaioannou’s testimony insinuated that speaking Spanish was not “professional.” Based on this evidence, the trial court concluded, “a reasonably jury could reach a verdict in [Bautista’s] favor.

Free Consultation With Employment Attorney

When experiencing discrimination in the workplace, one of the most important decisions employees must make is which employment law attorneys to consult with regarding their legal rights. As part of our law firm’s dedication to fighting for employment discrimination victims, an experienced employment law attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for employees, and you will not have to pay to speak with our employment law attorneys regarding your rights under federal employment discrimination law. We are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.

Citrus County, FL Employment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have litigated employment discrimination cases in Florida courts for more than twenty years. If you have been instructed not to speak Spanish in the workplace or have questions about your employee rights under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination 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.

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