Woman files complaint against Dunkin’ franchise owner for telling her not to speak Spanish on the job

A local woman who works at a Mineral Spring Avenue Dunkin’ Donuts shop has made a formal discrimination complaint against the owner of the franchise after he allegedly reprimanded her about conversing with her sister in Spanish while on the job.

The employee’s sister, Claudia P. Garcia of Pawtucket, contacted The Times about the incident, which she said took place on April 14 at the shop located at the corner of Mineral Spring Avenue and Smithfield Avenue. Her sister, who she declined to identify, was on duty at the time of the incident.

Garcia said she had made a purchase at the store and was talking to her sister in Spanish when the owner of the franchise suddenly came out of a side door and told her sister and the other employees they were not to speak in a language other than English. She said that both she and her sister felt “embarrassed and humiliated” by the owner’s remarks, and her sister has since filed a discrimination complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

“I feel that, at this point in time and Rhode Island being as multi-cultural as it is now, it is unacceptable for individuals like me and those other girls to be discriminated against and humiliated as that man did,” Garcia stated.

Garcia added that, according to her sister, one of the store’s managers has also told the employees not to speak Spanish to the customers, even when they need help in ordering the food and beverage items. She alleged that on more than one occasion, when a customer has come in and tried to order an item in another language, the manager has “repeated their words in a bad tone of voice” and has told the employees not to speak Spanish to try and help. “They have no sense of customer service,” Garcia claimed.

The owner of the shop, Guido Petrosinelli, sees the matter differently. He owns multiple Dunkin’ Donuts franchises and believes that in a retail environment, his employees should speak English the majority of their time while on the job. To do otherwise, he maintains, is offensive to all of the customers who do not speak a language other than English.

For example, Petrosinelli pointed out that when employees speak to each other in Spanish in front of a customer, it can appear as though they are talking about the customer. “I’ve had complaints from customers about this,” he said. “Especially if the employees are laughing and joking and the customer doesn’t know what is being said. This can be seen as offensive. People interpret things in different ways.”

Petrosinelli said that as part of his policy, it is suggested that employees speak only in English. “In a retail environment, they need to communicate in English,” he reiterated. “It can be offensive to other people if they don’t.”

Petrosinelli noted that this particular location, which he has owned since 1968, is in an area with a high concentration of Latino and Portuguese residents, who provide his customer base as well as a source of employees. He said he has always had a good relationship with the local Latino and Portuguese community and respects their culture. He also said that he recognizes that someone could come into the store who needs to speak to an employee in their native tongue, but he believes “there is a time and a place for this.”

As to the complaint by Garcia’s sister, Petrosinelli did not deny speaking to the employee about her conversation in Spanish. However, he said that he “recommended” that she speak in English and did not “reprimand” her. He said a loud conversation had been going on between Garcia, who was at the counter, and her sister, who was at the other end of the store, while another employee was taking orders at the drive-through window located in between them.

As to Garcia’s other accusation, Petrosinelli strongly denied ever telling any of his managers to not provide assistance to their non-English speaking customers when placing orders. “In fact, I recommend to store managers that if a customer has trouble ordering in English, and someone who is bi-lingual is available to interpret for them, to have that employee try to help them,” he said. He added that it would be absurd to think he would want his employees to do anything otherwise, because it would only result in lost sales for his own business.

When contacted again on Friday as a follow-up, Garcia said that Petrosinelli has since met with her sister and the store manager and has apologized. She said her sister is still employed at the store and feels somewhat better about the matter. Still, she points out, her sister believes the incident shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and intends to pursue her complaint with the Commission for Human Rights.

According to a state Web site, the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights was established by the General Assembly in 1949 to handle discrimination complaints. Its board has the power to review, investigate and make settlement in cases involving discrimination charges or conduct further administrative reviews. If warranted, the case could then be sent on to Superior Court for further consideration.

The Pawtucket Times