Tuesday, February 24, 2009

California lawmaker introduces "language rights" bill in response to LPGA

From Sen. Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco and San Mateo:

SACRAMENTO – While speaking one’s native language is protected in cases of employment and housing under state law, such protections are not provided under the state’s civil rights act, which prohibits discrimination within business establishments.

As a result, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) today introduced legislation to add the use of any language to the list of protections under the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Currently, the Act prohibits business establishments from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition.

The issue stems from a proposed policy announced last summer by the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) to suspend players who do not speak English. The LPGA later rescinded the proposal after objections from Senator Yee and over 50 civil rights organizations.

“Unless English is justified by a business necessity, no one should be discriminated against simply for speaking their language,” said Yee. “SB 242 will rightfully add language to the list of protected classes within California’s civil rights act.”

In September of 2008, Senator Yee led an effort to oppose a discriminatory policy by the LPGA which would have required players on Tour to be proficient in English starting this year. 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.

“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 242 such discriminatory mandates will not only be unfair, but illegal.”

Under SB 242, it would be a violation of state law for an entity to adopt or enforce a policy that limits or prohibits the use of any language in a business establishment, unless the language restriction is justified by a business necessity and notification has been provided of the circumstances and the time when the language restriction is required and of the consequences.

A business necessity would be defined as “an overriding legitimate business purpose for which all of the following are true: the language restriction is necessary to the safe and efficient operation of the business; the language restriction effectively fulfills the business purpose it is supposed to serve; and an alternative practice to the language restriction that would accomplish the business purpose equally well with a lesser discriminatory impact does not exist.”