[lg policy] Regulators sue Albertsons, saying it violated Latino workers' rights by banning Spanish

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Sat May 5 10:38:26 EDT 2018


 Regulators sue Albertsons, saying it violated Latino workers' rights by
banning Spanish
By Morgan Cook
<http://www.latimes.com/sdut-morgan-cook-staff.html#nt=byline>
May 04, 2018 | 4:05 PM
<?subject=Regulators%20sue%20Albertsons%2C%20saying%20it%20violated%20Latino%20workers%27%20rights%20by%20banning%20Spanish&body=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.latimes.com%2Fbusiness%2Fla-fi-albertsons-spanish-20180504-story.html>
[image: Regulators sue Albertsons, saying it violated Latino workers'
rights by banning Spanish]
Albertsons developed an unwritten “English-only policy” about six years
ago, the government's lawsuit alleges. (Geri Lavrov / Moment
Editorial/Getty Images)

Albertsons grocery stores violated the rights of Latino employees with a
policy forbidding workers to speak Spanish around non-Spanish speakers —
even when conversing with one another during breaks or helping
Spanish-speaking customers, according to a new lawsuit.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Albertsons Cos. on
Thursday in federal court. The lawsuit accuses the Idaho-based chain of
discriminating against Latino employees at San Diego-area stores, harassing
them and subjecting them to a hostile workplace because of their race or
country of origin.
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"Employers have to be aware of the consequences of certain language
policies," Anna Park, an attorney for the commission's district office
covering San Diego County, said in a statement Thursday. "Targeting a
particular language for censorship is often synonymous with targeting a
particular national origin, which is both illegal and highly destructive to
workplace morale and productivity."

Albertsons is one of the largest food and drug retailers in the United
States, operating stores — including Safeway, Vons and Pavilions — in 35
states and the District of Columbia.
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"While we cannot comment on this pending litigation specifically,
Albertsons does not require that its employees speak English only," company
spokeswoman Jenna Watkinson said in a statement. "Albertsons serves a
diverse customer population and encourages employees with foreign language
abilities to use those skills to serve its customers."

In or around 2012, Albertsons developed an unwritten "English-only policy,"
which Albertsons "implemented as essentially a no Spanish policy," the
lawsuit alleges.

Christine Park-Gonzalez, deputy director of the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission's Los Angeles district office, said one of the key
issues of the lawsuit is that, in an Albertsons training video, two workers
are shown speaking Spanish, and the video suggests that it's best if
workers refrain from speaking Spanish in front of workers who do not speak
the language.

Park-Gonzalez said an upper-level manager at an Albertsons store on Lake
Murray Boulevard in San Diego took an aggressive stance regarding the
policy, telling workers they couldn't speak Spanish at the store, even on
break and even if a customer started talking to them in Spanish.

The lawsuit said non-Latino employees were not similarly harassed or
subjected to the no-Spanish policy.

"It became a hostile work environment that impacted the employees of the
store where they were disciplined and disciplined publicly in front of
others," Park-Gonzalez said.

David Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in San
Diego, said that he did not know enough about the facts of the lawsuit to
comment on it specifically, but that typically, English-only policies must
be justified by a business as a necessity, such as for safety reasons.

Loy said it was not obvious to him what business necessity would require
employees to speak only English, even on their breaks or when serving
Spanish-speaking customers, but the justification may be more clear once
the parties have had time to present the facts and circumstances
surrounding the policy decision.

One on occasion in October 2012, the manager reprimanded Hispanic workers
Guadalupe Zamorano, an employee since 2007, and Hermelinda Stevenson, an
employee since 1989, "in front of the store" for speaking Spanish, the
lawsuit alleged.

Afterward, Zamorano called "Albertsons' hotline to complain about the
manager's conduct and prohibition against speaking Spanish at work," the
lawsuit reads.

After she lodged her complaint, "a union representative investigated the
complaint, and told Zamorano that she needed to speak English because she
was living in the United States. There was no further action taken in
regards to the complaint," the lawsuit said.

Staffers at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 union office,
which represents workers in San Diego County, said they never received a
complaint from Albertsons employees regarding an English-only policy.

"The first we heard about it at the union was [Thursday] when it broke in
the news," said Mickey Kasparian, the Local 135 union president. He said
union staffers then looked through grievances from earlier years and found
no such complaint. "We take these matters very seriously, and if it had
been reported to us, we would have been immediately on top of this."

Park-Gonzalez, with the employment commission, said that the union was
involved in some capacity, but that she couldn't expand further on what
that means because of the pending litigation.

In December 2012, Zamorano was again reprimanded — this time because she
was speaking Spanish to a Spanish-speaking customer — and told to speak
only English at work, the lawsuit says.

The following year, the suit says, Zamorano and Stevenson requested
transfers to other stores.

Stevenson asked for the transfer in June 2013 because harassment and other
issues at work were making her sick with anxiety and stomach problems, the
lawsuit says. It says that in November 2013, Zamorano also asked for a
transfer, citing harassment and that the manager refused to submit her
request until she removed the statement about harassment.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Albertsons to stop discriminating
against employees based on their national origin, to compensate the
aggrieved employees for monetary losses and emotional pain according to
proof at trial, to award punitive damages and to pay the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission's legal costs.


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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