Gate Gourmet employees sue company over 'English-only' policy

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A group of Spanish-speaking employees sued their employer Thursday alleging the company required them to only speak English while at work.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) has partnered with 14 employees at Gate Gourmet to take legal action against the company. According to the lawsuit, which was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, a shift manager prohibited employees from speaking Spanish while on the job.

"The language restriction is illegal. The business would have to show certain exceptions that we allege that Gate Gourmet cannot satisfy," said Martha Gomez of MALDEF.

Employers can require workers to speak English under California law but only if there is a business necessity. Gourmet Gate provides catering and cleaning services to airlines and took over the contract to clean Delta Air Lines planes at Los Angeles International Airport last year.

According to the lawsuit, employees can successfully complete their tasks at work without speaking English.

Plantiff Maria Martinez, 40, said she has been working for Gate Gourmet for nine years and has not had a problem with the company until now. She said she fears losing her job after getting a written warning for speaking Spanish at work.

"They've got to walk around with their mouth shut. So it is humiliating and denigrating, and it makes it harder for them to do their job," said Victor Viramontes, national senior counsel at MALDEF.

Christina Ulosevich, a spokeswoman for Gate Gourmet, said they do not have an English-only rule and that they take pride in their ability to integrate non-English speakers into the workforce.

"We onboard, train, and communicate with our diverse workforce in multiple languages, and certainly in both English and Spanish in Los Angeles. We ensure that our people receive the information they need, including all policies and procedures, in either English or Spanish," the company said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks to require Gate Gourmet to withdraw the language rule and pay damages and attorneys' fees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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