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  • Navajos Language Cannot be Spoken on Job

    Suits alleging cultural bias

    Page restaurant won't let Navajos use their own language while on the job

    By Howard Fischer
    CAPITOL MEDIA SERVICES
    TUCSON DAILY STAR


    PHOENIX - A Page restaurant is facing a federal court lawsuit over its refusal to let its Navajo employees speak their own language on the job.

    Legal papers filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge that the owners of RD's Drive-In fired two workers because they refused to sign a company policy that they speak only English while on the job. Two others then quit after the policy was enacted two years ago because, they said, they could not live with its terms.

    This is the first lawsuit the EEOC has filed anywhere in the country seeking to preserve the rights of American Indians to speak their own languages on the job, said Mary Jo O'Neill, the EEOC's acting regional director.

    "It is amazing that, in a country that cherishes diversity, an employer will prohibit the use of indigenous languages in the workplace and terminate Native American employees who question whether that is lawful," she said. "In fact, in 1990 Congress enacted a statute specifically designed to protect and preserve native languages."

    But Steve Kidman, who owns the restaurant with his father, said federal regulations permit English-only requirements when necessary for the functioning of the business. He said that is the case here.

    It will be up to a federal judge to sort out who is right.

    Kidman said he imposed the rule in June 2000 after getting complaints from several employees that Navajo-speaking workers were insulting them. He said the workers could hear their names being spoken but were unable to understand exactly what was being said about them.

    That, Kidman said, undermined crew morale. He said it would be like letting two workers whisper about a third.

    "If your two co-workers were in the corner, looking at you and whispering and giggling, it had that same kind of effect on our crew," he said. "And we were having a hard time maintaining enough workers because they would simply quit because they didn't want to work in that environment."

    EEOC attorney David Lopez denies that Navajo-speaking workers were using derogatory terms about other employees. But Kidman produced a sworn affidavit from a current worker, a Navajo, who said other employees were "saying rude and sarcastic remarks about me in Navajo."

    Attorney David Selden, who represents the diner, said "the only real effective way the business could see to solve the problem was prohibiting people from speaking Navajo" while on the job. Selden also disputed the EEOC's contention that the policy applied to workers while on break.

    Selden also said the policy did not preclude employees from communicating with each other, as all were fluent in English. He said workers were permitted to use Navajo with customers as necessary.

    The lawsuit seeks both back pay and lost future pay, as well as an injunction prohibiting the restaurant owners from discriminatory practices in the future.
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  • #2
    Man, I don't think that would go over down here in Texas. I have been to several local business where it was predominantly one race of people and they ALL spoke their native language. As a matter of fact, there are some small, privately-owned businesses around here where you almost have to speak some of the language to get service there. But you know what. . .I love it that way!

    I would be interested to know how old the employees were, because it sounds like they were all up to some childish antics, in my opinion.

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    • #3
      ??????? In a country where people speak nearly every language EXCEPT english, on the job or not, and Native's arn't allowed to speak their own? Sorry, I'd sue too! It's rough going into a store, and have India people speak their language, and you have to figure out what they say, or spanish or whatever (I can speak spanish) but we arn't allowed to speak NATIVE AMERICAN?? ewwwww that gets my goat big time!!!!:8: :Flame

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      • #4
        Kidman said he imposed the rule in June 2000 after getting complaints from several employees that Navajo-speaking workers were insulting them. He said the workers could hear their names being spoken but were unable to understand exactly what was being said about them. That, Kidman said, undermined crew morale. He said it would be like letting two workers whisper about a third.
        It sounds like a pretty WEAK rationale for an official policy like that. Maybe the workers were talking about how cute so-and-so was or what a nice @$$ so-and-so has! I imagine he'll be instituting a policy regarding whispering next. You know, so it doesn't undermine crew morale.
        Not better. Not worse. Just different.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by traci_m
          I would be interested to know how old the employees were, because it sounds like they were all up to some childish antics, in my opinion.

          I was thinking the same thing when I read this thread post! What BABIES .... so and so is talking about me, make them quit! What is next? No sorry you are not allowed to look at another person at work, you might think! ??
          Lots of places you go have other languages, but you know I have never heard Cherokee being spoken at Cherokee reservation in NC? I hear some Elder ladies(the old old ones) speak it at their houses, and sometimes at Walmart, when they don't want others to know what they say! But not at any of the stores I've been to on the Rez.
          Harm no one.

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          • #6
            speaking navajo isnt a bad thing...the owner took this issue alittle to far in my opinion...navajo gurls will always be sarcastic...hehe..its one of the best things...i laugh with my gurlfren and her sisters wayyy to much...
            thanks dad for showing me the way, teaching me the language, and not leaving my mother...*L*

            *RoUg3 MoD sTaTuS*

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            • #7
              There is a similar lawsuit over the termination of a Spanish-speaking woman from a nursing home in Wenatchee, Washington. A patient/resident of the home filed an official complaint against a Latino nurse, who was having a private conversation with another Latino employee (nurse or ???) and the white woman wanted the ability to eavesdrop, so she made a big stink and got the nurse fired. This was on the news up here a couple months ago. Now the right wing is rallying around the English-Only movement. I think the United States should adopt Russian as its official "white" language just to pi$$ off the McCarthyists, eh? How 'bout the Seattle area bank machines, maybe they should have a "Lushootseed" language option, eh? Kirby Wilbur can go to hell.
              "Friends don't let friends drink decaf..."
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