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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763

Laura Ingraham

Laura Ingraham
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Consumer Reports

The Federal P.C. Police Versus Small Business Owners (Cont'd) | A hulking federal bureaucracy sues a Mom and Pop burger stand, and the complaint alleges discrimination and is steeped in political correctness. This sounds like something one would expect to during the Clinton years, but instead it's happening now.

Richard Kidman and his wife Shauna, co-owners of R.D.'s Drive-In in Page, Arizona, say they are on the verge of bankruptcy. They can't afford to defend themselves against a lawsuit filed in federal court in Phoenix by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The suit is the first-ever English-only discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of Native Americans by the federal government. Four former employees of R.D.'s claimed that the Kidman's English-only rule was discriminatory. Other Navajo employees still working at R.D.'s applauded it. The story is a classic tale of an unaccountable bureaucracy versus the little guy.

The Kidmans say that they had no choice two years ago but to prohibit non-English speaking by their workers after they discovered that some employees were speaking Navajo to hide gossip and insults (Kidman and his wife were referred to as various expletives and pejoratives Navajo), as well as sexually harass some Navajo co-workers.

For more than 20 years, the Kidmans have run the fast-food restaurant, employing close to a thousand Navajo teens in the process. They claim to have always had an English-only policy in effect, discussed with potential workers at hiring time.

According to the Kidmans, the issue came to a head when a young Navajo girl came to them in tears, alleging that two male Navajo workers were making lewd comments behind the counter. "We were losing customers and employees offended by the filthy talk behind the counter, and about to get sued for sexual harassment," Richard Kidman explains, "So I did something about it."

Enter plaintiff's lawyer Franklin Hoover from Flagstaff: "My clients felt they have the right to free speech. They have the right to communicate with each other in the language they grew up with." Of the four women who filed the June 2001 complaint with the EEOC, one, Roxanne Cahoon, is Native American but not Navajo and doesn't speak it. Another, Elva Josley said the newly-posted English-only policy "scared" her, and caused her to hide in the restaurant's bathroom until her husband picked her up.

The EEOC agreed with Hoover and in its complaint alleges that the American Indian/Navajo employees were "disparately impacted due to the overbroad constraints placed on speaking native languages ...without a business necessity...."

Yet if the Kidmans' desire to keep their workplace free of insults and sexually explicit language does not qualify as a compelling business necessity, what does? The EEOC website says that it is lawful for employers to adopt English-only rules if there is a business reason to do so, if the employees have notice, and if employees are told of consequences for non-compliance. Although there is a factual debate about whether the former employees were fired or left R.D.'s voluntarily, but most conditions seems to have been met here.

The EEOC is no doubt frustrated that English-only movement is growing, that bilingual education is on the run (Just ask the voters of Massachusetts who just passed an anti-bilingual referendum.). What the liberal do-gooders who dominate the EEOC can't get from the voters, they hope to get from the courts. Just one more reason why President Bush must move quickly to fill vacancies on the federal courts with judges who don't believe in legislating from the bench. Suits such as this one should be tossed out and ideally the EEOC should be ordered to pay the legal fees of the owners of R.D.'s.

The employer here is a small fish, but the potential implications of this case are huge. Instead of helping Native Americans or immigrants, a ruling recognizing a right to speak a language other than English might make employers less eager to hire them. And employers having a difficult time maintaining order and morale in a non-English speaking environment could find themselves sacrificing pleasant working conditions for protection from a crippling discrimination allegations.

As for the owners of R.D.'s, this holiday season isn't looking too bright. "Fight it or don't fight it, either way I'm broke," says the beleaguered Kidman.

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JWR contributor Laura Ingraham is the host of a radio show syndicated nationally by Westwood One Radio Network. Comment by clicking here.

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05/17/01: Ashcroft's abuse of power

© 2002, Laura Ingraham