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October 1994, Volume 1, Number 9

English-only Rule Upheld by Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that English-only workplace rules do not discriminate against Spanish-speaking employees. Employees Garcia and Buitrago sued Spun Steak in San Francisco after the meat and poultry company imposed an English-only rule on its 30 employees in 1990. The district court found that English-only rules violate federal anti-bias rules, but the Court of Appeals reversed the district court, holding that, in this case, most of the 30 employees were bilingual, so Spun Steak did not violate their rights when it required them to speak English at work.

Such rules may be illegal if the workforce does not speak English. One result of the Garcia v. Spun Steak ruling is that employees have been calling for employer-subsidized English classes.

Some legal scholars argue the English-only workplace rules violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on national origin. However, federal appeals court decisions have made proving employment discrimination based on national origin extremely difficult.

Many cities and states have considered or adopted English-only rules. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, the City Council passed an ordinance on September 7 declaring English as the city's official language. The ordinance made English the official language of all city business, except when federal or state law requires otherwise. Allentown's Latinos feel that the action is a "slap to their community;" Latinos are about 12 percent of the city's 100,000 residents.

English was made the official language of Dade County, Florida government in the early 1980s. The statute was overturned in 1993, but poll after poll indicates that white voters in FL do not want more immigrants. Florida Governor Lawton Chiles is up for re-election, and observers say that his declaration of an immigration emergency and his suits to have the costs of immigration reimbursed have helped him.

Two bills that are now in the US House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee would make English the official language of the US and mandate that government business be conducted in English. One of the bills would require the Immigration and Naturalization Service to create standards of English proficiency that all prospective citizens would have to pass, and eliminate bilingual education and bilingual ballots. Proponents of the bills deny that they are anti-immigrant or targeted at Hispanics; they argue that the bills encourage immigrants to learn English and promote their integration


William Booth, "This Country Can't Take Them All," The Washington Post, August 30, 1994,,p. A01. John D. McKinnon, Federal Judges Give Boosts To English Only Laws," Miami Herald, June 8, 1994. Robert Moran, "Latinos Say the Bill is the Town's Way of Making Them Feel Unwelcome," Philadelphia Inquirer, September 9, 1994. Yolanda Rodriguez, "Language Bill Irks Hispanics: Reps. King and Levy back English Only," Newsday, Wednesday September 7, 1994 ,p.: A21. "Allentown Council to Vote on English-Only Proposal," The Legal Intelligencer, September 8, 1994. A. Nomani Sr., "Labor Letter, Wall Street Journal, September 27, 1994. Garcia v. Spun Steak, AFL-CIO News, August 22, 1994, 13.