Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Friday, March 2, 2007
English-only rule leads to firing
Hairstylist said she was fired after language dispute.
By AMY TAXIN
The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA – A bilingual Santa Ana hairstylist was fired after a dispute with her supervisor over rules requiring her to speak English at a retirement community salon.
Gloria Maldonado, 51, said she had worked at the salon at Town and Country Manor for four years, cutting hair for senior citizens who lived at the complex. She also styled hair for a handful of outside customers, including a friend who spoke little English.
Maldonado, who came to Santa Ana 35 years ago from Mexico, said she argued with the salon manager in February after she was asked not to speak Spanish in front of Town and Country residents.
"I said to her, if someone comes in speaking Spanish, do I have to refuse them service? I'm here to make a living like everyone else," Maldonado said. "Right now, I feel like this is discrimination."
Beauty salon manager Gwen Neveu, who leases space from Town and Country, said she fired Maldonado over what she called her "threatening" reaction to the English-only rule – not because of the rule itself.
But for Town and Country – a nonprofit run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance that offers independent and assisted living as well as nursing care – the issue of language hasn't been simple. In 2004, the Santa Ana center was cited by the California Department of Health Services after residents complained they didn't like staff speaking in foreign languages while providing nursing care.
The department required Town and Country staff to have training about when English should be spoken because "the facility must promote care for residents in a manner and in an environment that maintains or enhances each resident's dignity and in full recognition of his or her individuality," state papers show.
Town and Country's director, Dirk DeWolfe, said employees could speak to each other on breaks in any language, just not in front of the residents. He said the rule is laid out in the complex's employee handbook.
"All we do is try to abide by what the Department of Health Services tells us. We're stuck that way," he said.
DHS spokeswoman Norma Arceo said there is no law requiring nursing homes to operate in English but any service a resident receives – ranging from dialysis to a bath – should be provided in the resident's language.
"The bottom line is if the patient is in the same room, you want to be speaking English because we want the patient to understand," Arceo said.
She said DHS only oversees nursing care at Town and Country – not its assisted living facilities.
Federal civil rights experts said English can be required in the workplace for safety reasons or in the face of a "business necessity," citing examples ranging from a hospital emergency room to a factory that uses toxic chemicals. The state applies a similar rule, said Paul Ramsey, chief counsel for California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
"An employer may have a rule requiring only English," Ramsey said. "But business necessity is a pretty high standard in the state."
Anna Park, attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Los Angeles, said companies need to be careful to apply the same rules to all languages. She also said they can't require English in every area of operations if safety is only a concern in a particular department.
"You can't have a blanket rule," Park said.
In Santa Ana, Maldonado rented a chair in one of several salons owned by Neveu that cater to residents in both the assisted living and nursing care facilities at Town and Country. Maldonado said that until last month she was never told English was required at the salon, which did not serve nursing care patients.
She said she never expected to find such a rule in Orange County, where 40 percent of residents speak a language other than English.
"I'm still in shock. I still don't believe it," she said.
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