A group of former Wal-Mart employees in New Jersey have filed suit against the retail conglomerate, alleging that they were fired after they complained about their store's unwritten 'No Spanish' policy.
The suit is brought on behalf of no fewer than six individuals who worked at a Wal-Mart in Essex County, in northern New Jersey. The plaintiffs who ranged in position from a greeter to a supervisor were all fired despite performing their duties in a satisfactory manner, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that, although the store did not have a written policy prohibiting or restricting its employees from speaking Spanish in the workplace, management continually admonished, ordered or otherwise harassed [the plaintiffs] from speaking Spanish in the workplace. According to the complaint, the plaintiffs complained to management, but nothing was done to address the situation.
Some allegations are even more egregious. Rosa Knezevich, a cashier at the store until April 2008, says she was also admonished for speaking Spanish at work. But the final straw, according to the suit, came in March 2008, when Knezevich found out that she was expecting, and that hers was a high-risk pregnancy.
Knezevich asked, pursuant to doctor's orders, that she be allowed to forgo assignments detrimental to her health. Rather than grant the accommodation, Knezevich says, Wal-Mart fired her. Another of the plaintiffs, Marciel Alvarado, had a similar experience, according to the complaint.
Nothing new for Wal-Mart
The suit is just the latest in a long line of wrongful termination actions and allegationsagainst the nation's largest retailer.
Just last month, Wal-Mart settled a gender discrimination lawsuit for $11.7 million. That action alleged that Wal-Mart denied women entry-level jobs, instead placing less-qualified men in those positions.
In December, Wal-Mart paid $40 million to settle a Massachusetts class action alleging that it cheated employees out of overtime and meal breaks. A year earlier, 63 consolidated class actions alleging similar actions settled for $640 million.
And in March 2009, the company paid $17 million to a group of African-American men who say they were denied a job because of their race.
The New Jersey plaintiffs say that the store's no-Spanish policy embarrassed, humiliated and demeaned them, and fostered a hostile work environment based on [their] Hispanic heritage.
The complaint charges Wal-Mart with unlawful termination, unlawful retaliation, constructive discharge, an unlawful hostile work environment, and, for the two pregnant plaintiffs, a failure to accommodate. It also charges John Doe, an unidentified manager, with intentional infliction of emotional harm and aiding and abetting.
The suit says that Wal-Mart's conduct has caused the plaintiffs to suffer economic, emotional and psychological damage of up to $25 million, and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages, as well as compensation for attorneys' fees.