MALDEF filed a lawsuit against Gate Gourmet for unlawful employment practices. Gate Gourmet, a contracted cleaning service for Delta Airlines at LAX, illegally prohibited its employees, including those who only speak Spanish, from using Spanish during work hours, including rest and meal breaks, and threatened to replace employees who complained about management.
The lawsuit alleges that this is unlawful harassment of employees, in violation of California Government Code sections 12951 and 12940.
"In addition to being unlawful, the existence of the English-only policy delivers a serious blow to the public relations and competitiveness of both Gate Gourmet and Delta Airlines," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "We are hopeful that this issue can be quickly resolved to restore the rights of Gate Gourmet employees."
Gate Gourmet employees work to ensure planes are properly stocked and cleaned between flights. In order to complete their responsibilities, they communicate with each other throughout the day, either in person or via a radio to dispatch. In order to most quickly and effectively complete their tasks, many workers speak Spanish or their native language. Upon becoming a new third-party contractor for Delta Airlines on March 15, 2014, a Gate Gourmet manager immediately implemented a "No Spanish," "English-Only" policy for the crew and threatened to replace employees who didn't comply with the policy.
"With this lawsuit, we aim to defend the basic dignity of Latino Spanish-speaking workers at the workplace. Gate Gourmet, like every other employer, cannot prohibit its employees from speaking Spanish for jobs that can be done in any language," said Martha Gomez, Staff Attorney, MALDEF.
Victor Viramontes, National Senior Counsel, MALDEF, stated: "Companies must respect the basic right of workers to speak and be heard. Gate gourmet's illegal English-only policies trample on the basic rights of the Latino employees who work hard for the company's benefit."
When employees filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, the Gate Gourmet manager claimed to know about the complaint regarding the language policy and threatened that they could be replaced with new workers. Though several employees complained to other managers of Gate Gourmet on numerous occasions, no actions were taken against the manager prohibiting workers from speaking Spanish.
"No es justo que me proh?¡ban hablar mi idioma que es espa??ol," said Maria Martinez, plaintiff. "It is unjust that they prevent me from speaking my language, which is Spanish."
Eliminating workplace discrimination on the basis of language is one of the central pillars of MALDEF's work. With the employees of Gate Gourmet, MALDEF is seeking justice for the right to work in an environment free of harassment.