November 25, 2014
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CA Gov Vetoes Bill Prohibiting "English Only"

SACARAMENTO - California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed SB 111, a language rights bill authored by San Francisco Congressman Leland Yee.

According to Yee's office, SB 111 was landmark legislation that would have prohibited businesses from denying service to a patron because of the language he or she speaks. 

SB 111 attempted to add protections for language to the state’s civil rights act – the law that prohibits discrimination within business establishments. While speaking one’s native language is generally protected in cases of employment and housing under state law, such protections are not currently extended to consumers.

“No one should be discriminated against simply for speaking their language,” said Yee. “All patrons – English speaking and non-English speaking alike – deserve to be served. The Governor was wrong to not add language to the list of protected classes within California’s civil rights act. Rather than protect our minority communities, he unfortunately protected the financial interests of businesses that discriminate.”

The issue stems from a proposed policy announced in 2008 by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to suspend players who do not speak English.  Despite there being no relevance to the sport, the LPGA claimed that it was important for players to be able to interact with American media and event sponsors. Ironically, many of the sponsors are international companies and a number of the tournaments are not held in the United States.  No other professional sports league in the United States has such a mandate.

The LPGA later rescinded the proposal after objections from Senator Yee and over 50 civil rights organizations.

“It is quite disheartening that in the 21st century any organization would think such a policy is acceptable,” said Yee.  “With the passage of SB 111 such discriminatory mandates will not only be unfair, but illegal.”

The state’s main civil rights law – the Unruh Civil Rights Act – prohibits discrimination within business establishments, generally to protect patrons from not receiving service based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, and sexual orientation.  

Specifically, SB 111 would have prohibited a business from adopting a policy that requires, limits, or prohibits the use of any language within a business establishment.  The bill allowed a language restriction to be imposed as long as notification has been provided of the circumstances when the language restriction is required.  SB 111 did not impose any additional requirements on businesses other than to respect the dignity and diversity of their patrons.

Brown said he was concerned that "businesses, especially small ones, could run afoul of this measure without any malice or bad intent, thereby subjecting themselves to costly litigation."

 



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