[lg policy] Connecticut: Atticus Bookstore's Management Reviewing Language Policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jan 24 14:14:38 UTC 2010

Atticus Bookstore's Management Reviewing Language Policy


January 23, 2010

NEW HAVEN — - Here in this liberal stronghold, the news that Atticus
Bookstore and Café had imposed a policy restricting employees to
speaking English in public areas has been greeted by widespread
criticism. But it took most people a beat or two to get to the harsh
words. "Atticus?" said lawyer Steven D. Jacobs in disbelief. "You're
kidding me."
Especially in recent years, New Haven has gone out of its way to
distinguish itself as a place welcoming to immigrants, regardless of
their legal status. Atticus appeared to fit comfortably, even
enthusiastically, into this mosaic. A stalwart for more than 30 years
in a rapidly changing downtown, Atticus prided itself on its quality
baked goods, promoted the arts and environmental causes and fostered
an air of multiculturalism at its Chapel Street location in the
building that houses the Yale Center for British Art.

"A lot of people are shocked that Atticus is doing this," said Deborah
Malatesta, a spokeswoman for the New Haven Workers Association, the
group that publicized the policy after it was contacted by two angry
Atticus employees. In a statement released Friday, owner Charles
Negaro said media reports of an English-only policy are not true.
"If these news reports have offended anyone, I am sorry," said Negaro,
who also owns the Chabatta Bakery in New Haven's Fair Haven
neighborhood. "Atticus managers and staff are reviewing our policy of
appropriate language usage to determine how we can avoid
misrepresentations of this kind in the future." That does not go far
enough for Malatesta, who said the intent of the policy recently
posted in the store was explicit.

"Here we speak English: effective immediately the official and only
language spoken on the floor and behind the counter is English," said
the memo, signed by manager Jean Récapet, who is trilingual and had
been known to speak his native French in the store. "Spanish is
allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area and the lower level.
Let's make our customers feel welcome and comfortable." Malatesta said
one worker who complained about the policy was fired this week and
should be rehired. A demonstration is planned for noon today in front
of the bookstore. In an interview Friday, Récapet said the policy was
to "encourage the usage of English," which he acknowledged was
different from English only. He declined to comment on the fired
worker. "English is the primary language in this business," he said.

Negaro has a reputation as a socially responsible, model businessman,
who frequently contributes to community causes, said Kica Matos, who
has worked with the local immigrant community for nine years. As New
Haven's community services administrator in 2007, Matos led the drive
to create the Elm City identification card, which earned national
attention because it was made available to immigrants even if they
weren't in the country legally. "We have always considered Charles a
friend of the immigrant community and a supporter of immigrants'
rights, so this is really surprising," Matos said. New Haven Alderman
Joseph E. Rodriguez said he had patronized the café and was so stunned
by the news he insisted on seeing the policy for himself before he
fully believed it. Then he shot off a letter to Negaro calling it
"troubling, divisive and discriminatory."

Despite management's promise to review the policy, Rodriguez said
Friday, "My concerns still stand."

Jacobs, the attorney, has represented workers who have been fired for
violating English-only policies. He said federal and state laws permit
such a policy, but only if it is necessary to promote the productivity
and efficiency of a business or for a safety concern.

"This policy appears to address none of those things," Jacobs said.

In the bustling café Friday, Récapet said management was "working very
hard" on reviewing its policy and appeared confident that the
controversy would soon pass. He said he was proud that he started an
English tutoring program a few years ago that partnered store
employees with Yale students. About 14 employees currently
participate, with Atticus paying for books and materials, he said.
When a customer complimented him for selling a good cup of coffee for
only $1, he smiled broadly. "And it's organic and free trade," he

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