2005_11_sephora.jpgAn interesting lawsuit in our multicultural city: A judge is deciding whether or not some Sephora employees were discriminated against for speaking Spanish on the job. While Federal Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that the cosmetics retailer could restrict its employees to speaking only English while on the job, she will examine whether or not the women "faced retaliation" from management, as one woman was fired. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tells the Daily News, "To be told that you can't speak the language that is most natural to them as Hispanics is hurtful," and its class-action lawsuit against Sephora was filed "on behalf of all Latino workers at Sephora stores in New York."
Some of the injustices employees are claiming is that they were criticized for speaking Spanish to a South American customer and for speaking Spanish to each other during breaks, though managers spoke in other languages to their relatives on the phone and in French to stockboys. Sephora says they encourage employees to speak customers' native languages, but feels that speaking in non-English language can seem offputting.

This issue is fascinating, because, of course, most of us are used to going into local stores and just dealing with employees speaking in other languages (at the nail salon, at the bodega, basically almost anywhere), but Sephora is a global retailer with other concerns. Yes, the English-most-of-the-time policy is still what stands at Sephora, but it's just surprising, since New York City attracts a diverse population, both of New Yorkers and tourists, who would probably be glad to hear a familiar language. The EEOC had a linguistics expert testify that "bilingual Hispanics are unable to refrain from speaking Spanish to others fluent in the same language," which then brings up how much of your culture are you supposed to leave at the door when you go to work.

Two months ago, Curbed mentioned that a downtown apartment building had been reprimanding workers for speaking in Spanish on the job.