Forever 21 is getting hit with a lawsuit for an "English-only policy" at its flagship San Francisco store.

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed the suit on behalf of three employees who were allegedly discrimination against by management for speaking Spanish to each other and Spanish-speaking customers.

Francisco Leon, Ignacio Martinez, and Freddy Tovar were verbally abused by Amanda Harris, the store's assistant manager of merchandising, and stock manager Luis Morale, according to The Fashion Law.

They were prohibited from speaking languages other than English — even when greeting each other — and faced hostile working conditions after they inquired about the policy.

The employees were penalized after vocalizing their concerns to Forever 21's human resources department.

Their work hours were reduced and they were subjected to further harassment. 

The former employees sought legal aid from La Raza Centro Legal in May 2015, according to the organization's workers rights attorney Alejandra Cuestas. Cuestas contacted the store about the language policy.

Initially, Forever 21 didn't respond to her request. They later denied the existence of the policy. La Raza Centro Legal filed a discrimination complaint with DFEH.

DFEH filed the lawsuit on March 29. The lawsuit alleges that the employees "suffered past and future lost wages [and] suffered emotional injuries, including but not limited to, emotional distress, anxiety, frustration, humiliation, mental anguish, nervousness, and other non-pecuniary losses."

DFEH claims that the clothing retailer violated Title 42, one of California's civil rights laws.

california law
photo: iStock

Title 42 states that it is "unlawful for an employer to adopt or enforce a policy that limits or prohibits the use of any language in any workplace, unless the language restriction if justified by a business necessity and the employer notified its employees of the circumstances [in advance]."

DFEH director Kevin Kish told CBS San Francisco that Forever 21's policy is illegal. 

"Linguistic diversity is a business reality in the California workplace, and the department will carefully scrutinize English-only rules to ensure that all employees are treated equally, regardless of their national origin," he said.

The irony is that Forever 21 was founded by a married couple who emigrated from South Korea. They weren't fluent in English.

In 1981, Jin Sook and Do Won "Don" Chang moved from South Korea to Los Angeles and created the retail empire that we know today. 

"The husband-and-wife duo, both 26 at the time, landed in California penniless, speaking broken English, and without college degrees," Business Insider reported

The adoption and enforcement of English-only rules in Forever 21 is hypocritical, but neither of the founders have released an official statement about it.

The first hearing for this case is in August. The complainants are seeking compensatory damages as well as a court-ordered injunction to stop the policy.

Forever 21 stairs
photo: iStock

"I would like workers to know if they are in this situation, they should know that it's not wrong for them to speak in their native language, the state law protects them," Cuestas told CBS San Francisco. 

A Forever 21 spokeswoman wouldn't comment on pending litigation, but did tell CBS Francisco that the company "is committed to diversity and inclusion in all of our stores and does not have any policies with regards to the language spoken in our stores."