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ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Former employees of the Hess convenience store on West Ridge Road here filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that the company's upper management threatened them their jobs if they spoke Spanish while working, local television station WHAM reported.
In addition, Jose Hernandez, a former manager at the store was transferred, and his 23 employees were fired, he told the station.
Hernandez told the station he was praised for increased sales, and thought bilingual workers were a benefit to customers who spoke Spanish, the report stated.
"I had one Hispanic [worker] on every shift in case there was a problem where somebody could not communicate in English," he told the station.
However, upper management later told him the store employees were only allowed to speak English, the report stated.
"They're asking us not to speak our language, that's a part of who we are, it's almost like telling us not to breathe, that's a part of who I am," Hernandez told the station.
"It seems to me it is clearly illegal to prevent people from speaking their native language," Ted Kantor, the lawyer for the workers, told the station. "It's a multi-lingual, multi-cultural world, and people should be permitted to speak among themselves whatever languages that is common to them and comfortable to them."
Lawyers for Hess deny any and all accusations made against them, according to paperwork filed with the EEOC last week, and cited by WHAM. Additionally, a spokesman for the company told the station that it's a worker's right, if they feel wronged, to pursue legal options, but would not comment further on the case. A call to the company by CSNews Online for more information was not returned by presstime.
The EEOC is conducting an investigation, and if it finds workers' civil rights were violated, it will attempt to resolve the issue with all parties involved, according to the report.