Los Angeles

Lawsuit Alleges Workers Forced to Keep Quiet Unless They Spoke English

More than a dozen Gate Gourmet employees at Los Angeles International Airport claim in a lawsuit filed Thursday their shift manager forced them to either speak English — or don’t speak at all — including during lunch breaks.

Fourteen employees are suing the global airline food and cleaning service company with a filing stamped and official Thursday in Los Angeles. In the complaint, the employees claim those who couldn’t speak English had to remain quiet and those who are bilingual were forced to only speak English while at work.

"I got a warning," said Maria Martinez, one of the employees named in the suit.

Martinez said she was written up and threatened with termination even though she claims she can’t speak any English and needs to speak Spanish to work with co-workers to get their jobs done.

Martinez is assigned to cabin cleaning when planes that contract Gate Gourmet arrive at LAX.

"They’re enforcing this illegal policy," said Victor Viramonte, one of the attorneys representing the employees from the Mexican-American Legal Defence Fund (MALDEF). "This is not some rogue manager, this is someone who’s working with the blessing of the entire company."

NBC4 reached out to the company’s corporate headquarters in Virginia.

In a statement, the company said it is aware of the lawsuit but had not seen it yet and wouldn’t comment on active litigation.

However, Christina Ulosevich with the company’s corporate communications office said: "Gate Gourmet does not have an English-only rule. We onboard, train, and communicate with our diverse workforce in multiple languages, and certainly in both English and Spanish in Los Angeles. We ensure that our people receive the information they need, including all policies and procedures, in either English or Spanish. Gate Gourmet takes pride in our diverse workplace and in our ability to integrate non-English speakers into our workforce."

It’s a sentiment other employees who were outside the company’s LA offices said, too.

One man who didn’t want to be identified said he worked for the company for more than 20 years and picked up Spanish because of all the Latino co-workers he has.

MALDEF denied a request for written proof of the company policy it refers to in the lawsuit or a copy of the written warning Martinez mentioned. Viramonte said it was a verbal policy they planned to prove with the 14 claimants when the case goes to court.

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