Alcala Case – Issues Involving Spanish Speakers
Although Spanish is Juan’s first language, he speaks English very well and soon earned responsibilities for overseeing 12 part-time workers, all legal immigrants from various Central American countries. Responding to employee complaints about Juan allowing his team to speak Spanish on the shop floor, management quickly instituted an English-only policy. When Juan replied that enforcing English would be a barrier to communications, he and the entire team were fired for refusing to comply with the policy.
Office buildings owned and operated by the state of California are maintained by California’s Department of General Services (DGS). Several offices in downtown Los Angeles are part of DGS’s “L.A. Metro Region.” These buildings each have a staff of custodial staff, maintenance engineers and managerial employees who oversee building upkeep and maintenance.
In 2014, it is alleged that there were several conflicts between employees who primarily spoke Spanish and other employees. Following these conflicts, it is alleged that a supervisor implemented an “English-only” policy or practice requiring that all employees speak English any time they were on state property, including on their meal and rest breaks. Numerous employees made complaints, both formal and informal, and claimed that they were treated unfavorably because they were Latino/Hispanic and because they spoke Spanish, including several employees for whom Spanish was a second language. These complaints did not change DGS’s policy or practice. Ultimately a group of 13 current employees joined together to demand justice.
Our office worked closely with the plaintiffs to investigate the extent of the mistreatment the employees had allegedly been subjected to. There was evidence of alleged disparate treatment as well as evidence from numerous third-party witnesses, which suggested a pattern of differential treatment and that DGS’s management had told employees to speak only English. After nearly two years of litigation, our office was able to obtain $1.1 million for the plaintiffs – all of whom were able to keep their jobs.