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Store's English-Only Policy Causes Rift In Community

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A Milwaukee institution has locals divided over a recently-discovered store policy.  

Leon's Frozen Custard on Milwaukee's south side has an English-only policy, meaning employees cannot speak in any other language to customers, Fox 6 reports. Some have applauded the store's policy, while others are calling for a federal investigation. 

Ron Schneider, the owner of Leon's, said the policy has been in place for years and that he's never had any issues with it until recently. According to Fox 6, the issue arose on May 17 after local customer Joey Sanchez overheard an employee whisper to a nearby customer, "I'm not allowed to speak to you in Spanish."  

Sanchez said he was next in line and placed his order in Spanish. The employee reportedly gave him the exact same response. 

Sanchez told Fox 6 that he was dumbfounded by the policy. 

"I'm trying to understand or find the why," he said.  "I need to hear from him to hear why he has this policy."  

"Hey, c'mon! It is America," Schneider said about his English-only policy. "We've spoken English for a long, long time."  

"Any foreign language is going to be a problem," Schneider added.  "What I'm trying to avoid is when people come up here, get waited on in a different language because there happens to be an employee who speaks that language."  

But according to Sanchez, the store policy is bad for business. 

"If they have the people who can speak Spanish and communicate with the customer better, why not?" he asked.  

Some customers, like Jorge Maya, agreed with Sanchez. 

"Most people that live here are Latino," Maya said. 

"I don't think I'm going to be back anytime soon," he added.

However, there are other customers who are taking Schneider's side. 

"We do live in America, you know?" Ryan Schmidt, a Leon's patron, said.

Meanwhile, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is calling for a federal investigation into the store's policy.  LULAC State Director of Wisconsin Dr Arturo Martinez issued the following statement:  

"In the last 24 hours, LULAC of Wisconsin has received numerous requests to investigate the issue of workplace policy as it pertains to language at Leon's Frozen Custard located at 3131 S. 27th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While many of us consider this as a community institution, it was surprising when we learned of their language policy, which is in clear violation of federal labor law. Upon reviewing the statements made by management in a video interview detailing Leon’s policy, we are requesting an investigation of this policy by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The law is clear on this issue and offers few exceptions. In the meantime, we encourage management to review their current employment policies with counsel to bring them into compliance. We are confident that in doing so, it will lead to a stronger business and a stronger community.”

On its website, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that "rules requiring employees to speak only English in the workplace violate the law unless they are reasonable necessary to the operation of the business."

However, it has not yet been reported if the EEOC will investigate Leon's.

And Schneider said he isn't budging. 

"It's going to get disruptive if we have to become bilingual, trilingual, or anything else," he Fox 6.

Schneider added that an employee likely wouldn't be fired for speaking Spanish but could expect a chat with the boss for violating the policy.

Sources: Fox 6, EEOC / Photo Credit: Fox 6

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