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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

City Workers Fight English-Only Policy

(CN) - The city of Rochester adopted an English-only policy that forces municipal employees to forego their native tongue, even on breaks, eight workers claim in the Western District of New York.

"The policy is not limited to work-related conversations in that it was being implemented to stop workers from speaking Spanish whenever English-only speakers were around," according to the complaint, which adds that "this was supposedly to avoid 'offending' those who couldn't understand Spanish."

But the workers say that Rochester's Commissioner Paul Holohan, a defendant, told them that "no one has ever complained about any worker speaking Spanish." (Emphasis in original)

Co-defendant Karen St. Aubin, a high-ranking supervisor at the city's Department of Environmental Services, allegedly only enforced the policy with Latino workers, and told them: "If you want to speak Spanish, do it at home and not at the work place."

The plaintiffs say that St. Aubin's policy led co-workers to harass them.

"Shortly thereafter, English-only speakers were taunting the Spanish speakers, including the aforementioned Plaintiffs, about the ban on their mother tongue. ... Each of the Plaintiffs has been subject to slurs, threatened discipline and other adverse and unfavorable acts in the terms and conditions of their employment apart from the English language only policy," the complaint states.

They say that there is no reason to demand employees speak English for conversations not related to work.

"There is no business necessity for such policy, or, to the extent that any business necessity is shown, the policy is overly broad and extends beyond that required by business necessity in that it includes purely private and personal speech which the City does not attempt to regulate or control except as to Hispanic employees," the complaint states.

The eight workers demand punitive damages and a judgment declaring the policy unconstitutional. They are represented by Christina Agola.

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