There’s a tendency among many liberal “civil rights” bureaucrats to assume that any practice they dislike must be “discriminatory.” Thus, when businesses mandate the use of English by customers (in taking orders) or employees (when conversing on the job), bureaucrats claim that that is “national origin” or race “discrimination” or “harassment.”
Philadelphia’s civil-rights agency seems to have resisted this temptation, at least for the time being, in refusing to find a business guilty of discrimination because it asked customers to place orders in English. The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations “has ruled that English-only signs at a famous cheesesteak shop are not discriminatory. The Commission on Human Relations ruled Wednesday that the sign at Geno’s Steaks does not violate the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance. Joe Vento posted the signs at his shop in October 2005. They read ‘This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING ‘PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH.’ Critics alleged that the policy discourages customers of certain backgrounds from eating there.”
The federal appeals courts have long rejected the argument that English-only rules are “discrimination,” but that hasn’t stopped bureaucrats at the Department of Education (where I used to work as a civil-rights attorney) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from claiming that such rules are, in fact, discrimination forbidden by federal law.
The EEOC’s position is very ironic, and insubordinate toward the federal courts, because it generally lacks the power to adopt binding regulations, and its discrimination “guidelines” are only advisory in nature, as the Supreme Court emphasized in cases like EEOC v. Arabian American Oil Co. (1991). Nevertheless, in some recent cases, ignorant trial judges in Massachusetts and elsewhere have mistakenly allowed the EEOC to sue private employers based on its “guidelines” defining English-only rules as national-origin discrimination and “harassment,” even though those guidelines legally cannot contradict federal appellate court rulings upholding English-only rules, like Garcia v. Gloor (1980), Garcia v. Spun Steak Co. (1993), and Guadalupe Organization v. Tempe Elementary School Dist. (1978)
I earlier explained the illogic of the attack on English-only rules here, in a post discussing trial lawyers’ demand that pharmacies hire costly bilingual interpreters free of charge, the EEOC’s lawsuit against the Salvation Army, and costly bilingual education mandates imposed on schools by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.