Grocery Chain Sued for No-Spanish Policy, Harassment

Requiring that someone be able to speak English for a job is perfectly legal. Requiring that they not speak any other language is not. The U.S.national origin discrimination Equal Opportunity Commission is suing national retail grocery chain Albertsons Inc. for its “no-Spanish” policy and the harassment and hostile work environment it created. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California after conciliation process could not reach a settlement.

According to a Washington Post report, employees said they were reprimanded for speaking Spanish during their breaks or to Spanish-speaking customers. While technically an unwritten policy, plaintiffs alleged a 2012 training video specified they were not permitted to speak Spanish in front of any non-Spanish-speaking person, and they were threatened with discipline when speaking Spanish.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly states that workplace discrimination based on national origin is forbidden. By enforcing rules that are connected to one’s national origin, an employer creates disparate impact if they fail “to demonstrate that the challenged practice is job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity.” In the Albertsons case, employees claimed they were targeted for using Spanish in the break room on their own time, which certainly would have no bearing on their work. They also said they were scolded for using Spanish with Spanish-speaking customers, a practice that would, in fact, be helpful to their work and beneficial to customers.

In addition, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act recently fortified its rules about national origin discrimination to specifically call out language restriction policies. CA Code of Regulations, Title 2, Div. 4.1, Chapter 5, Sub. Ch. 2, Article 4 states “English-only rules are presumed to violate the Act on the basis of national origin and ancestry, unless the employer can prove … business necessity.” Necessity can include punishment if an employee is using a second language for harmful purposes, like speaking ill about customers or employees, per an unpublished 2011 ruling of the 4th District Court of Appeal in Orange County. The modifications to the FEHA regulations go on to say English-only rules are never lawful during an employee’s non-work time, including breaks.

Despite complaints being filed against management, no corrective action was taken for the language-based rules. EEOC is requesting monetary damages for affected employees and an action plan to prevent future instances of discrimination. It is important that workplaces feel safe for all employees and that there are clear channels to communicate misdeeds and proper consequences for those actions. When managers are the ones allegedly creating the hostile work environment, it becomes exponentially more difficult for workers to feel they have ways to find recourse.

That’s why our Orange County national origin discrimination lawyers are here to defend your rights. Even if an employer can find justification for language rules, there is never a place for harassment or creation of a hostile work environment in any place of employment. The law is designed to protect employees, and our legal team is thorough in our examination of state and federal laws as well a precedent set by other cases to best serve you.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

EEOC Sues Albertsons for Harassment of Hispanic Employees, May 3, 2018, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission

More Blog Entries:

EEOC Updates Guidelines on National Discrimination, Jan. 31, 2017, Orange County Employment Lawyers Blog