Not just freedom fries at this English-only drive-in?

Dennis Baron debaron at UIUC.EDU
Fri Nov 23 21:03:33 UTC 2007

There's a new post on the Web of Language:

Not just freedom fries at this English-only drive-in?

In 2002 the owners of R.D.’s Drive-In, a small eatery in Page,  
Arizona, began requiring their all-Navajo staff to speak only English  
when serving customers or working in the kitchen, as well as when  
they went on break.  According to the New York Times, R.D.’s owners  
claimed this English-only policy was necessary because some male  
employees were making rude and sexually-suggestive remarks in Navajo  
about customers, and they insisted that the ban on Navajo actually  
proved that management supported its Navajo staff and patrons.

Most employees, including the alleged harassers, signed statements  
agreeing to the new rule.  But the four women employees who were  
fired for not signing the one-language pledge didn’t feel  
particularly supported.  Instead, they complained to the Equal  
Employment Opportunity Commission that the owners applied their  
language rule only when it suited them, “encouraging Navajos to break  
the English-only rule and use their native language when a sale  
depended on it.”  So the EEOC sued R.D.’s for discriminating on the  
basis of national origin, in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The EEOC has won settlements against employers in many language  
disputes, and now, in its first case of discrimination involving a  
Native American language, it has negotiated a settlement with the  
drive-in owners: they may require employees to speak English while  
dealing with the public, but not at other times.

Both sides in this long-running case are claiming victory: the EEOC  
for getting the drive-in owners to agree that employees may use their  
native Navajo when appropriate at work, and the Kidmans for striking  
a blow for small businesses as well as supporting English, a language  
that many Americans seem to think is in danger of becoming extinct....

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Dennis Baron                                                home:  
Professor of English and linguistics        mobile: 217-840-0776
University of Illinois                                           fax:  
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana IL 61801

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