Albertsons supermarket chain's no-Spanish policy must go, feds say

A supermarket in Southern California harassed its Hispanic employees and subjected them to a hostile work environment by limiting when they could speak Spanish on the job, federal officials said Thursday.

In its lawsuit, the EEOC alleged that managers at an Alberstons store in San Diego barred Hispanic workers from speaking Spanish around non-Spanish speakers, even during breaks or when dealing with Spanish-speaking customers.

“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,” said Anna Park, an attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Los Angeles district office.

“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.”

- Anna Park, attorney, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

The policy drew employee complaints and caused some workers to transfer to other stores, the EEOC said.

Albertsons wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, but said in a statement that it does not require its employees speak English only.

"Albertsons serves a diverse customer population and encourages employees with foreign language abilities to use those skills to serve its customers," the statement said.

The conduct violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC said.

"It is extremely important for workers to feel safe in coming forward to report harassment," Christopher Green, director of the EEOC's San Diego office, told the Associated Press. "It is equally important for employers to make certain that harassment is investigated and addressed appropriately."

Albertsons employs about 280,000 people in 35 states.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.