A San Diego branch of Albertsons supermarkets reportedly barred its employees from speaking Spanish around non-Spanish-speakers, and extended that ban to include break time and conversations with Spanish-speaking customers. The Associated Press reports the lawsuit, brought on Thursday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says the store reprimanded Hispanic employees, “created a hostile work environment,” and that such a policy constitutes harassment. The prohibition against speaking Spanish reportedly began in late 2012.
According to the suit, employees complained about the policy but nothing changed. In response, some employees transferred to other stores. The EEOC says the store violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
“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,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, in a statement.
The grocery chain didn’t comment on the lawsuit directly, but said through a spokesman that “Albertsons does not require that its employees speak English only. Albertsons serves a diverse customer population and encourages employees with foreign language abilities to use those skills to serve its customers.”