A Latina NYPD officer has filed two federal equal employment opportunity complaints against a higher-ranking officer that reprimanded her for uttering a single sentence in Spanish.
On May 14, Jessenia Guzman was operating the switchboard at a Manhattan, N.Y. police station when another officer prompted her to speak.
“It was just natural,” Guzman said, according to the New York Daily News. “She walked by. She was going to get coffee. She said something. I responded (in Spanish). That was it.”
Guzman, 40, said the exchange was so insignificant she couldn’t even remember what she was talking about with the other officer, who also spoke in Spanish.
A few hours later, Guzman was called into a supervisor’s office at the 24th precinct station house and given a “memo of reprimand” for violating an English-only workplace rule for cops in the city.
The officer that Guzman was speaking with did not receive any reprimand.
According to a copy of the memo signed by Lt. Richard Khalaf obtained by the Daily News, officers are “required to communicate department business in the language of English” so as to “allow proper supervision of personnel.”
The policy, which has been around for four years, states that personnel must “speak English while they are conducting business for the department unless speaking a foreign language is a necessary component to performing their duties and responsibilities,” according to a copy of a 2009 NYPD internal newsletter obtained by the Daily News .
The policy is not enforced for things such as personal calls, breaks or other “common-sense type situations such as a cursory greeting to a co-worker.”
Though the policy has been around since 2009, the department has only recently taken initiatives to start enforcing it. Officers who attended Police Academy executive training classes last month were instructed to begin paying attention to other languages in the workplace, a law enforcement source told the Daily News.
“When it’s good for the department, they can speak Spanish,” Linda Cronin, general counsel for the National Latino Officers Association, told the paper. “When it’s not convenient, you’ll be disciplined.”
According to police officials, more than 50 languages are spoken by NYPD personnel, with one-fifth of all officers coming from foreign countries and one-third of Hispanic origin.
Guzman is a Bronx native with Dominican roots and has worked with the NYPD for the past 13 years. The incident will remain on her police record for the remainder of her career with the department.