A no-Spanish language policy implemented by a California grocery store is coming under fire from the federal government. Albertsons Inc. was recently slapped with a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging discrimination against Hispanic employees.
According to a report from NBC San Diego, the EEOC lawsuit claims Albertsons did not allow employees to speak Spanish near any non-Spanish speakers. The unwritten policy also included a prohibition against speaking Spanish to customers and during breaks.
Per the EEOC complaint, employees who violated the no-Spanish rule were reprimanded by managers. While numerous harassment grievances were filed by workers, Albertsons refused to budge. Fearing their jobs were in jeopardy, several employees transferred to another location to avoid further trouble.
“It is extremely important for workers to feel safe in coming forward to report harassment,” EEOC’s San Diego office director Christopher Green said, as cited by Fox News. “It is equally important for employers to make certain that harassment is investigated and addressed appropriately.”
The store’s no-Spanish speaking policy violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to EEOC documents. Should the EEOC win the case, the court may demand Albertsons pay compensation to employees affected by monetary loss and emotional distress as well as punitive damages. The Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
“Employers have to be aware of the consequences of certain language policies,” said Anna Park, an attorney with the EEOC, per the NBC report. “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.”
Prior to filing the discrimination lawsuit, the EEOC tried to come to an agreement to end the no-Spanish rule. While not explicitly commenting on the pending litigation, Albertsons said in a recent statement that the company does not require workers only to speak English and “encourages employees with foreign language abilities to use those skills.”
As one of the largest grocery chains in the country and headquartered in Idaho, Albertsons employs 280,000 people at locations in 35 states. The company also owns and operates well-known store brands Safeway, Pavilions, and Vons.