A 16-year NYPD veteran is suing the department for violating her civil rights after she was punished for speaking Spanish on the job.
Jessenia Guzman was written up in 2013 for speaking Spanish while working the switchboard at the 24th Precinct on the Upper West Side. In her suit, she recalls a "quick interaction with a co-worker." When a coworker asked her in Spanish "What's up" Guzman replied "Nothing, just chillin'." Several hours later, Guzman was written up and given a permanent mark on her record by a lieutenant enforcing the NYPD's English-only language policy.
That policy "violates civil rights, constitutional rights and New York State and ... City anti discrimination laws," the new lawsuit alleges. According to the Post, Guzman hadn't even been aware the rule existed.
"It was just natural," Guzman said of the exchange. "She walked by. She was going to get coffee. She said something. I responded. That was it."
In court papers filed Monday, Guzman alleges that her superiors have repeatedly singled her out for undue punishments and passed her over for deserved promotions. In her suit, Guzman states she has only been given rookie-level assignments despite her years of experience, including a peer counseling post she was particularly qualified for, given her master's degree in social work.
Guzman sued the department for discrimination in federal court following her 2013 reprimand for speaking Spanish, but lost when a judge ruled that she was unable to prove the NYPD's policy broke the law, according to the Daily News. In that case, Guzman's supervisor Lt. Richard Khalaf argued that she was singled out for being disrespectful: "When somebody is disrespectful to a supervisor...or to their subordinates, they may also be disrespectful to the public."
At the time, an NYPD spokesman explained to the Post that “with over 50 different languages spoken by employees of the Department, our Office of Equal Employment Opportunity has established guidelines for members to speak English when they are conducting business for the department, unless speaking a foreign language is necessary to perform his or her duties.”
Guzman is seeking unspecified damages in her lawsuit.
Former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was a staunch proponent of the NYPD's English-only rule. Shortly after Guzman's initial reprimand, Kelly told ABC "It is logical, you walk into a police station and you hear people speaking a language among themselves other than English, it certainly could be at the very least disconcerting and not necessarily a signal that you are there to assist."
Nowadays, while the rule still exists, the NYPD tweets in Spanish, and one third of its 2015 graduating class of new officers was Hispanic.