A North Carolina county health department director has stirred up controversy after sending an email to her staff asking that they speak only English in the office unless they are dealing with customers who speak a different language or are on break.
Dr. Marilyn Pearson, director of the Johnson County Health Department, sent the controversial email Oct. 1, WRAL News reports. She has since declined to comment on it.
County Manager Rick Hester told WRAL he wanted to speak to Pearson directly before he weighed in on the issue.
“I'm sure we'll be having some more discussion just to understand it a little better,” he said.
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Pearson reportedly wrote in the email that other employees had raised concerns about other languages being spoken in the office.
“For the comfort of employees and to be respectful of others who do not share that language, staff are asked to speak English in the office when not on breaks or personal time,” the letter read.
George Eppsteiner, who is an attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, called the proposed rule “problematic” and said that there “didn't seem to be any pressing 'comfort of employees' to implement this type of policy.”
James Ryan, a spokesman for the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also spoke with WRAL.
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“We assert that employees have the right to speak other languages as long as they do not inconvenience customers or co-workers or cause any trouble for their employer in doing so,” Ryan said. “Especially unacceptable are policies that target one or more ethnic groups for different language rules from others. If English-only policies are evenly applied and reasonable and can be justified by business necessity, then EEOC would not necessarily oppose them.”
Earlier this year, Pearson was named North Carolina Health Director of the Year by the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
It is unclear just how long she has been in her current position, but a news release announcing the recent award said she had served as a physician with the health department for seven years prior to taking the position. She was nominated for the award by her staff, according to the news release.
Photo credit: Johnston County Health Department