An English-only policy for employees at a bookstore near Yale University has sparked controversy in a town noted for being very friendly to immigrants.
Atticus Bookstore and Cafe in New Haven, Connecticut recently issued a policy stating that English should be the only language spoken on the floor and behind the counter. "Spanish is allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area and the lower level. Let's make our customers feel welcome and comfortable," the policy states, according to New Haven Workers Association, a group of activists who said employees gave them a copy.
Atticus owner Charles Negaro issued a statement, apologizing if news reports of the policy offended anyone. It went on:
"We encourage the use of English because it's an appropriate way to be most helpful to our customers. To continue to provide the best service possible, we try to help those employees who speak English as a second language by helping them improve their use of English."
"Atticus managers and staff are reviewing our policy of appropriate language usage to determine how we can avoid misinterpretations of this kind in the future."
All of this in a city that was the first in the nation to offer identification cards to illegal immigrants. Yale Law School has been active fighting for immigrant rights, filing lawsuits over immigration raids conducted by federal authorities.
Some in the community are outraged. Yale lecturer Tim Stewart-Winter said he likes to take out-of-town guests to Atticus, but may not now because of the policy. "I'm really appalled," said Stewart-Winter. "As a New Haven resident and member of the Yale community, I think diversity is a strength of this country."
Bridget Pierpont, a New Haven resident, said she was texting a friend as she passed Atticus suggesting they no longer go to the bookstore because of the language policy. "Frankly, I think that's part of the charm of this place," Pierpont said. "I think they should absolutely be able to speak Spanish here."
But Peter Indorf, who owns a jewelry store nearby, defended Negaro and his policy. "He's a solid member of the community," Indorf said. "He's entitled to do what he wants."
Employers are allowed to enact an English-only policy if it is needed to promote the safe or efficient operation of their business, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Examples include communications with customers, co-workers or supervisors who only speak English, emergency situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety and cooperative work assignments in which a common language is needed to promote efficiency.
However, sometimes the policies go too far. The EEOC has successfully challenged employers in those instances.