No Bueno: Erath County employee resigns after official tries to force her to sign English-only doc.
Veronica Cajamarca left her job as a bilingual motor deputy clerk with the Erath County Tax Assessor’s Office on Feb. 9, two days after she was asked to sign a document prohibiting her from speaking Spanish in the office.
Cajamarca told Beneath the Surface News that she and co-worker Marycruz Serrano sat next to each other and sometimes spoke privately in Spanish.
That was apparently enough to irritate a few of their co-workers who complained about the Spanish-speaking duo to their boss, tax assessor Jennifer Carey.
Cajamarca said that on Feb. 7, she and Serrano were summoned to Carey’s office separately and asked to sign a document that states, “English is to be spoken at all times while at work. English is the primary language of a majority of the employees of this office and in order to facilitate an efficient and harmonious work environment all employee shall speak only the English language except in limited circumstances. Languages other than English is only to be used when translating for a non-speaking English customer.
“Violation of this rule is grounds for termination.”
Cajamarca said the verbiage left her stunned.
“It was baffling,” she said. “(Carey) told me that she checked with the county attorney (Lisa Pence) and they could do this. I asked why she hired me for being bilingual if I wasn’t allowed to speak it and she just shrugged her shoulders.
“Then I asked what would happen if I didn’t sign it and she said she didn’t know.”
Neither Cajamarca or Serrano signed the document, and two days later, Cajamarca submitted her letter of resignation. She had been employed with the county since October 2021.
“I applied for the job because they needed a bilingual employee and I was looking for a better opportunity for myself,” she said. “This was a really big slap in the face; I was really hurt by it. Never in my professional years have I been treated this way.”
Serrano, who has worked at the office for three years, remains employed at the tax office.
“I’m only 20 and this is my first job, so it’s been very shocking for me. I started working for the county when I was in high school,” Serrano said. “When (Carey) showed me the document, my mind went blank and I panicked on the inside. I couldn’t believe it.
“I told her that I didn’t want to be rude, but I wouldn’t sign it. I asked what would happen if I didn’t sign it and she said I would probably be fired, but she would talk to the county attorney.”
Serrano said the matter has not been brought up to her again since that day.
“It’s been very uncomfortable in the office, but I am just trying to pull through,” she said.
SPEAKING SPANISH NO BUENO FOR SOME
Cajamarca turned in her two-week notice on Feb. 9, then took unused vacation so she wouldn’t have to return to the office.
The 36-year-old wife and mother said she is still reeling from the fact that she is now unemployed.
“Economically, I was totally unprepared for this,” she said. “But I have received a lot of support from friends and family. Not one person has told me that what happened was right.”
Cajamarca and Serrano both believe the situation was caused by a small group of women that thrive in a “toxic” work environment.
“There is this little group who was apparently bothered that we spoke Spanish to each other,” Cajamarca said. “They were irrelevant to our conversations, but thought we were talking about them because they gossip about everyone else.”
THE COUNTY’S RESPONSE
I asked tax assessor Jennifer Carey and county attorney Lisa Pence for the county’s side of the story, but both declined to comment.
“I cannot comment on attorney client communications,” Pence stated in a text message.
County Judge Brandon Huckabee is scheduled to return from vacation today and said the county will issue a response on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Cajamarca said her former supervisor and former co-worker have apologized to her for their behavior and involvement in the drama, and are now trying to distance themselves from the fallout.
“They know it was wrong; they know what they did was wrong,” Cajamarca said. “I loved my job, but a small group of women in that particular office made it miserable.”
WHAT DOES THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR SAY?
I reached out to three attorneys on the matter who all agreed that such a rule is likely a civil rights violation.
One attorney sent me a copy of the following:
EEOC Regulation 29 C.F.R. 1606.7 (a) provides that a rule requiring employees to speak only English at all times in the workplace is a burdensome term and condition of employment. Such a rule is presumed to violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Therefore, a speak-English-only rule that applies to casual conversations between employees on breaks or not performing a job duty would be unlawful.