Whole Foods, whole lot of language controversy

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Whole Foods, whole lot of language controversy

By Simone Del Rosario. CREATED Jun 7, 2013

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A popular grocery store has ignited a firestorm. Can a company tell its employees they aren't allowed to speak Spanish -- even to each other?

That's exactly what one store is accused of doing. It's a controversy gone viral, with online petitions and threats to boycott. It all started at a whole foods right here in the Southwest.

And though it started in the Southwest, people are expressing their outrage online from all over the nation, even the world. Here in Tucson it's no different. 

"If I spoke Spanish or another second language and was told not to, I would feel cheated," said Tucson native Kristofer Hanson.

But two Whole Foods employees from Albuquerque, N.M., say that's exactly what happened. They told the Associated Press they were suspended after complaining about the store's English-only policy.

A spokesman told AP employees must speak English while on the clock.

Sara Potter agrees. She tells Nine On Your Side if you work in America, you should speak English.

"If you're speaking another language in front of others, if you don't speak other languages you feel intimidated or you're being spoken about," Potter said.

Nine On Your Side wanted to know if this is a policy in all of Tucson's stores. 

At Safeway, store employee Cole Shanahan said, "They let everybody speak Spanish here. So it's fine, there's no problem here."

Fry's Food and Drug representative JoEllen Lynn said, "We have employees who speak Spanish only, some are bilingual, and what an asset that is to us."

Basha's said the same: Employees are free to speak their native language. 

While Equal Employment Opportunity laws state you can have English-only rules in certain cases, ProgressNow New Mexico and MoveOn.org are leading a charge -- pressuring Whole Foods to change its policy. 

Already, thousands of signatures are backing them up. 

Whole Foods released an online statement saying the employees in question were suspended for rude behavior, not for speaking Spanish. 

However, amid the controversy, the company is now reviewing its policy.