Language lessons

United States

In the US, Irma Rivera, who was fired because she spoke Spanish to a co-worker on the job in violation of a jewelry store policy, was awarded $500,000 by a jury in the first case to challenge an employer’s English-only policy. The number of complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from people claiming such policies are discriminatory has doubled in the past two years. And a number of other court actions are under way – including the case of truck driver Rogelio Campos. He was given a ticket under a section of federal transportation law that prohibits drivers from operating commercial vehicles if they do not have an adequate command of English. ‘The funny thing here is that he was able to take a test for his commercial license in Spanish, but he is required to speak English,’ says Fernando Mateo, a Dominican immigrant who employs Campos. He has prompted Campos to take English classes, telling him people should speak the language of the land where they live. ‘You are a nobody in this country if you can’t speak English,’ Mateo says, ‘but I don’t feel that, constitutionally, anyone should be given a ticket because they can’t speak the language.’


New Internationalist issue 311 magazine cover This article is from the April 1999 issue of New Internationalist.
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