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Woman Booted from Goodwill Store for Speaking Spanish, Complaint Says

By Maya Rajamani | March 1, 2017 2:34pm | Updated on March 1, 2017 4:10pm
 The Goodwill at 103 W. 25th St., near Sixth Avenue.
The Goodwill at 103 W. 25th St., near Sixth Avenue.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

CHELSEA — A Spanish-speaking customer was thrown out of a Goodwill store on West 25th Street after an employee told her to "speak English" because "this is America," a new complaint says.

Bronx resident Bruna Miguel, 33, was shopping with a friend at the Goodwill at 103 W. 25th St., near Sixth Avenue, on Nov. 30 last year when she asked an employee to show her a wallet she was thinking of buying, read the complaint filed with the city’s Commission on Human Rights Tuesday.

But when Miguel — who is of Honduran descent and speaks limited English — started speaking to her friend about the wallet in Spanish, the employee told her to stop, according to the complaint.

“Speak English, this is America,” the employee allegedly told Miguel.

When Miguel explained she had to speak to her friend in Spanish and wasn’t addressing the employee, the worker repeatedly told her she’d have to leave if she kept speaking Spanish, became “very upset” and called her manager over, the complaint says.

“When the supervisor came over… Ms. Miguel tried to explain the situation to him, but it was difficult because she does not speak English very well,” the complaint says.

The manager, however, ignored Miguel's explanation and asked her to leave the store. When Miguel tried to explain the situation again, the manager got upset, “raised his voice” at her and asked a security guard to remove the two customers, according to the complaint.

Miguel and her friend left the store before the guard could “physically accost her,” the complaint adds.

Legal Services NYC — which filed the complaint on Miguel’s behalf — claimed the customer was “harassed and thrown out of” the West 25th Street store, according to its statement.

In her own statement, Miguel said she was “hurt and embarrassed” by the incident.

“I was just having a conversation with my friend,” she said. “I never thought a store like Goodwill would treat someone badly just because they were from another country, or didn’t speak much English, especially in a city as diverse as New York.”

Christine Clarke, the director of Legal Services NYC’s Civil Rights Justice Initiative, called the employees’ actions “entirely inexcusable.”

“To throw people out of a store for speaking Spanish, particularly in this time of heightened tension and fear for immigrant communities, is just reprehensible,” she said in a statement.

The agency has asked that the commission require Goodwill to provide training for its employees and adopt anti-discriminatory policies.

A manager at the Goodwill store on West 25th Street didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. A spokesman for Goodwill NY/NJ said he couldn't comment on an "ongoing legal matter."

"We are investigating the allegations in the complaint, which do not reflect Goodwill’s values," he said in a statement. "Our organization values the dignity of work, and prides itself on the diversity of our staff and the individuals we provide services to.”

A spokesman for the Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday confirmed it had received Miguel's complaint.

"The NYC Commission on Human Rights will investigate these alleged acts of discrimination and will hold violators accountable and ensure that victims get the justice they deserve," he said in a statement.