California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has ruled against Forever 21 Retail, Inc. as a result of the company’s alleged policy forbidding language other than English. The complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, resulted from three employees at Forever 21’s flagship store in San Francisco who said they were reprimanded for speaking Spanish in what they were allegedly told was an “English only” environment. The employees further claimed management retaliated against them with harassment, hostility, and reduction of work hours after they complained about the rule, according to an article from KGET out of Bakersfield.
Defendant was ordered to pay $90,000 to each complainant, as well as severance packages and plaintiff legal fees. The chain of stores was also ordered to immediately end policies that enforce rules about not speaking languages other than English.
In cases such as this, our Orange County national origin discrimination lawyers can explain, punishment of the company is not the main objective. The goal is to end the behavior and to make sure it does not continue going forward. As such, Forever 21’s internal complaint procedure policies are being reviewed by an outside consultant, aiming to make it easier for employees to address issues internally without retaliation or need to escalate manageable problems. All California managers and supervisors will be given a written memorandum from the company explaining that “English only” policies are prohibited in the state. Further discussions will be required among all employees at the San Francisco and Santa Barbara locations regarding the law.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing clarifies that English-only policies are permissible if there is a legitimate business necessity. More often than not, though, such restrictions are veiled discriminations against employees, disguised as basic workplace standard. Further, any limitation on what language an employee uses during their personal break times or before work certainly would be discrimination, which is exactly what the employees in the Forever 21 case claimed was happening. Under CA Code of Regulations, Title 2, Div. 4.1, Chapter 5, Sub. Ch. 2, Article 4, a recent clarification to the Fair Employment Act in California, it is defined that discrimination over the language an employee speaks qualifies as national origin discrimination, which is a protected status for employees. Therefore, any instance where an employer claims an English only policy is necessary is going to come under the highest of scrutiny.
Our lawyers know it is a sensitive time for those who are from a foreign country trying to build a life in the U.S. Even those who only seem to be foreign in some way, whether because of their look or an accent or the ability to speak another language, can be targeted unfairly. Cases of national origin discrimination have become rampant, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence and it doesn’t mean you have to take on your employer alone. Our employment discrimination attorneys are on your side, ready to examine your case and determine the best first steps to protecting you and your right to a safe and diverse workplace.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
DFEH Settles “English-Only” Case Against Forever 21 Retail, Inc., July 11, 2018, Department of Fair Employment and Housing
More Blog Entries:
California Sues Store Over English Only Policy, May 24, 2017, Orange County Employment Lawyers Blog