Law Would Ban California Businesses from Language Discrimination

Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2009

Alarmed that a professional golf organization proposed excluding competitors who don’t speak English, the state Senate acted Thursday to prohibit businesses in California from discriminating against customers, including refusal of service, based on the language they use.

The proposed law has sparked heated debate throughout the state as well as some anti-immigrant calls to the office of its author, Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who has had his own experience with discrimination.

Yee proposed the law after the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. last year proposed, and then backed down from, a policy that would have suspended golfers who do not speak adequate English. The policy was based on the premise that language fluency in speeches and media interviews was critical to the sport’s promotion.

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SB 242, which now goes to the Assembly, was approved by a 21-15 vote, with Republican lawmakers opposed based on concern it would open businesses up to a rash of civil rights lawsuits if customers felt they did not get good service.

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The legislation includes an exemption that says firms can require English to be spoken if it is justified by a “business necessity,” such as the need for clear communication for safety.

Yee recalled as a young boy going to a San Francisco hardware store with an uncle who was mistreated because of his lack of proficiency in English.

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