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NC School Secretary Sues: 'I was Fired for Speaking Spanish'

A former school secretary in North Carolina is suing a school district, claiming she was fired for violating the school's strict no-Spanish rule.

According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, Ana Ligia Mateo was hired in 2006 as a bilingual secretary for Devonshire Elementary School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district. About 16% of the students in the district are Latino.

In 2008, the school got a new principal, Suzanne Gimenez. The report said Gimenez caught Mateo speaking Spanish on the phone to parents several times, and was warned to stop. The suit details other times Mateo spoke Spanish to communicate with parents who didn't speak English:

"During September 2008, a Spanish-speaking parent came to the school crying and stating in Spanish that someone at the school had placed a stick in her 7-year-old son's buttocks. Mateo asked Ms. Gimenez if she could translate for the parent. Ms. Gimenez refused and told the parent her 7-year-old son could translate. The parent continued to cry and eventually left without having her issue resolved because she could not understand Ms. Gimenez's responses."

In another instance with an upset parent who could not speak English, Gimenez "screamed at (Mateo) that she could not speak Spanish to any parents."

Mateo she was told she must agree to the no-Spanish policy in writing to keep her job, and was told she would not be transferred to another school, the suit alleges.

Mateo was "effectively terminated" on Sept. 24, 2008, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, unable to resolve the issue through "conciliation," referred the case to the U.S. Justice Department, the newspaper said.

There's been no reaction yet from Gimenez or the school district on the claims Mateo made in the lawsuit.


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