Albertsons Inc. is being sued Thursday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) after one of its San Diego stores allegedly discriminated against Hispanic employees by implementing a no-Spanish policy.
According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, around 2012, the store developed an unwritten policy that prohibited Hispanic employees from speaking Spanish around non-Spanish speakers, including when speaking to Spanish-speaking customers and during breaks.
Employees caught speaking Spanish would be publicly reprimanded by store managers, according to the EEOC. Despite numerous employee complaints, the store did not change its policy, forcing employees to transfer, the EEOC said.
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“It is extremely important for workers to feel safe in coming forward to report harassment," EEOC’s San Diego office director Christopher Green said. "It is equally important for employers to make certain that harassment is investigated and addressed appropriately.”
The EEOC alleges the store's conducts and policies violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“Employers have to be aware of the consequences of certain language policies,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which includes San Diego County in its jurisdiction. “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.”
The EEOC said it has attempted to reach a settlement with Albertsons before filing legal actions against the grocery chain.
In a statement to NBC 7, an Albertsons' spokesperson said the chain values the diversity of its customers and employees.
"While we cannot comment on this pending litigation specifically, Albertsons does not require that its employees speak English only," the statement reads. "Albertsons serves a diverse customer population and encourages employees with foreign language abilities to use those skills to serve its customers."
Albertsons Inc is one of the largest grocery chains in the U.S, employing around 280,000 people across 35 states, according to its website. The company operates under 19 well-known banners, such as Albertsons, Vons, Safeway and Pavillions.