Women fired for speaking Spanish

Amarillo (AP) - Rosa Gonzales and Ester Hernandez were hired by Allied Insurance in this Texas city because they spoke Spanish. They were fired for the same reason.

The two were "being very rude for speaking in a language we don't understand", Linda Polk, co-owner of Allied, said. Ms Gonzales and Ms Hernandez said they spoke regularly to the agency's large Hispanic customer base in Spanish. They said they used the language to speak to each other about work and not for personal chats or secret talk about co-workers.

"Being able to speak Spanish is an advantage to us. We don't want our heritage taken away from us," Ms Gonzales said.

Pat Polk, another co-owner of Allied, issued a memo stating that the office was English-speaking "except when we have customers who can't speak our language ... If you can't live with the rules here - Draw your pay and make the rules at your next job." Three women in the office were handed the memo. One signed it, while Ms Hernandez and Ms Gonzales refused and were fired. "When we read it, we were very upset," Ms Gonzales said. "They never warned us."

Ms Polk said Ms Gonzales was hired last November and Ms Hernandez in March "to speak Spanish to non- American-speaking people" and not to each other.

The incident is the second big language-related conflict here in three years. In 1995, a judge ordered a woman to speak English as well as Spanish to her five-year-old daughter.

English-only rules may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964 unless an employer can show they are necessary for conducting business, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handbook. A federal appeals court rejected the 1993 claim of workers who sued under circumstances similar to the Allied firings.

The Amarillo chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens said it would promote a boycott of Allied.

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