A popular bookstore and cafe near Yale University wants its many Hispanic employees to speak only English around customers, sparking controversy in immigrant-friendly New Haven, where students fight for immigrant rights.
Atticus Bookstore and Cafe recently issued a policy stating that English should be the only language spoken on the floor and behind the counter. “Spanish is allowed in the prep area, the dishwasher area and the lower level. Let’s make our customers feel welcome and comfortable,” the policy states, according to New Haven Workers Association, a group of activists who said employees gave them a copy.
“I’m really appalled,” said Tim Stewart-Winter, a Yale lecturer. “As a New Haven resident and member of the Yale community, I think diversity is a strength of this country.”
Stewart-Winter said he likes to take out-of-town guests to Atticus, but may not now because of the policy.
Bridget Pierpont, a 40-year-old New Haven resident, said she was texting a friend as she passed Atticus on Thursday suggesting they no longer go to the bookstore because of the language policy.
Atticus owner Charles Negaro issued a statement saying his business appreciates and accepts all languages and offers free English language classes to employees.
“We encourage the use of English because it’s an appropriate way to be most helpful to our customers,” Negaro said. “To continue to provide the best service possible, we try to help those employees who speak English as a second language by helping them improve their use of English.”
Negaro said news reports about the policy have been inaccurate and “if these news reports have offended anyone, I am sorry.”
Most of those interviewed outside the bookstore disagreed with the policy. But Peter Indorf, who owns a jewelry store nearby, defended Negaro.
“He’s a solid member of the community,” Indorf said. “He’s entitled to do what he wants.”
Deborah Malatesta, a member of the New Haven Workers Association, said the group plans to demonstrate Saturday in front of the bookstore. She said the policy is discriminatory.
The move comes in a city that was the first in the nation to offer identification cards to illegal immigrants. Yale Law School has been active fighting for immigrant rights, filing lawsuits over immigration raids conducted by federal authorities.
Employers are allowed to enact an English-only policy if it is needed to promote the safe or efficient operation of their business, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Examples include communications with customers, co-workers or supervisors who only speak English, emergency situations in which workers must speak a common language to promote safety and cooperative work assignments in which a common language is needed to promote efficiency.
[If you would like to indicate your support for the Atticus
policy, you can reach the bookstore here: [email protected] ]