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Suit Challenges English-Only Rule at Vista Firm

August 23, 1991|From Associated Press

A native of Mexico has filed a lawsuit against Puritan Bennett Corp. claiming discrimination over a policy that forbids employees to speak a language other than English on the job.

Maria Mendez of Vista also alleges that the company retaliated by temporarily suspending her from work after she filed a formal discrimination suit.

Mendez has worked at the company's Carlsbad plant since November, 1987. Her job involves retrieving parts that are to be shipped elsewhere for assembly, according to the lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Vista.

Puritan Bennett makes and distributes medical devices. Company officials did not return telephone calls about the suit Thursday.

Mendez said she filed the suit for the sake of her community, not herself.

"It's hard for me, all of this," said Mendez, who continues to work for the company. "I'm working because I need the money. I have to survive."

Mendez and her attorneys would not discuss details of the suit.

The lawsuit says she first objected to the "English only" policy at a departmental meeting in March, 1990. The policy "creates an isolating and oppressive work environment and demeans the culture of those whose primary language is a language other than English," according to her suit.

"The rule adversely and disproportionately affects Hispanic-Americans at Puritan Bennett," the suit says. There is "no legitimate business necessity" to justify the rule, according to the suit.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to find the policy illegal. The suit cites a state Fair Employment and Housing Commission regulation stating that an employer may require employees to speak only in English at certain times, only "if the employer can show that the rule is justified by business necessity."

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