Austin-Based Employer Faulted for English-Only Policy

Austin-based Whole Foods Market was hit with a discrimination complaint earlier this month. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the complaint, accusing the grocer of discriminating against native Spanish speakers. The company’s English-only language policy is at the root of the problem. Employees have asserted that the company forced them to refrain from speaking Spanish while on the job. 

Whole Foods Market used to have a language policy in place that called for English language use only on the job until last month when the company received a petition from roughly 15,000 customers who announced they planned to boycott the company’s stores if it did not change its language policy. As a result, the policy was updated.

Nonetheless, the ACLU has now filed complaints with the state’s human rights bureau on behalf of two Whole Foods employees who had been suspended from work for complaining about the English-only policy. Though the company claims it has revamped its language rules, these employees insist that they are still prohibited from speaking their native language on the job. 

Whole Foods has insisted that it has a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination, and it has yet to respond to this complaint.    

English-language only policies can present legal issues, specifically regarding the national origin and/or race discrimination. Both of these types of discrimination are outlawed by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. An English-only policy can have the effect of burdening employees of certain backgrounds, and in some cases, they may be illegal under federal employment law.

Source: Austin Business Journal, “Whole Foods Spanish flap continues as ACLU files complaint,” Sarah Drake, July 3, 2013