Albertsons is facing controversy after a new lawsuit claims the retailer forbid employees from speaking Spanish in San Diego-area stores. According to a lawsuit filed in federal court on Thursday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the retail chain developed the unwritten policy in 2012. Employees who were caught speaking Spanish would be publicly reprimanded by store managers, according to the lawsuit. Despite multiple employee complaints, the supermarket chain did not change the policy, forcing some employees to transfer.
A lawsuit filed by the EEOC claims employees in some stores were barred from speaking Spanish while working, including to Spanish-speaking customers.
— San Diego Union-Tribune (@sdut) May 4, 2018
The lawsuit specifies an Albertsons store located San Diego as subjecting “Hispanic employees to harassment and a hostile work environment” due to the imposed policies.
“It is extremely important for workers to feel safe in coming forward to report harassment,” Christopher Green, EEOC’s San Diego office director, told NBC San Diego. “It is equally important for employers to make certain that harassment is investigated and addressed appropriately.”
According to the lawsuit, an upper-level manager at an Albertsons store told Latino employees that “they could not speak Spanish anywhere on the premises regardless of whether they were on break.”
@MickeyKasparian, the @UFCW135 president, says he didn't know about the @Albertsons managers barring his union workers from speaking Spanish until today. He says: "No workers ever mentioned this to us.” https://t.co/3YMxLBKwct @UFCW @eeoc_sf pic.twitter.com/gd9nA3YnI8
— Times of San Diego (@TimesofSanDiego) May 4, 2018
“While we cannot comment on this pending litigation specifically, Albertsons does not require that its employees speak English only,” company spokeswoman Jenna Watkinson told the LA Times. “Albertsons serves a diverse customer population and encourages employees with foreign language abilities to use those skills to serve its customers.”
Yet, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune, Albertsons employees Guadalupe Zamorano and Hermelinda Stevenson both filed complaints to management in 2012 after they were reprimanded for speaking Spanish. Both eventually requested transfers to different stores citing harassment.
There has been immediate backlash on social media due to claims of the lawsuit.
yO, im boycotting Albertsons (& you should too) bc of their decision to ban employees from speaking spanish. That’s tasteless & very much so a form of discrimination, I’m incredibly disappointed that in 2018 corporations aren’t inclusive to all cultures, customs and languages.
— erika (@erikaisabellla) May 4, 2018
Many are defending the workers and even calling for a boycott to the supermarket chain, which employs some 280,000 employees across 35 states.
Coincidentally Albertsons posted a tweet about Cinco de Mayo that has some calling them “hypocrites”.
Hypocrites!!!! Don’t “celebrate” 5 de Mayo if you don’t allow to speak spanish to your employees #AlbertsonsRacist
— Paty Ayala❤️️???? (@paaya397) May 4, 2018
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 EEOC’s legal costs.