La Cantera Denies Claims in EEOC Discrimination Lawsuit

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La Cantera Hill Country Resort will be closed through next April for major renovations. Photo courtesy of La Cantera Hill Country Resort.

Courtesy / La Cantera Resort & Spa

La Cantera Resort & Spa faces a class action lawsuit on behalf of former and current employees.

La Cantera Resort & Spa's operators face a federal lawsuit over discrimination, including a so-called “English-only” policy for its employees.

After three years of investigation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  (EEOC) on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against DH San Antonio Management for discriminating against employees who spoke Spanish at work – including while on break or while serving at events such as quinceañeras.

The EEOC filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of 25 current and former employees of La Cantera Resort & Spa. San Antonio-based Espinoza Law Firm joined the agency on the lawsuit, which was filed in the Western District of Texas. The local law firm represents the plaintiffs who originally filed a claim with the EEOC in 2015 – 23 of the 25 named in the lawsuit.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the resort in Northwest San Antonio changed management in 2014 and began prohibiting employees from speaking Spanish. Management allegedly punished those who violated the language ban with write-ups, demotions, and firings.

John Spomer, vice president and managing director of the resort, denied "any claims related to unwritten policies that allegedly existed three or four years ago."

The lawsuit claims that Kathleen Bischoff, who was hired in 2014 and oversaw the resort’s banquet department alongside fellow new hire Will Primavera, called Hispanics “Mexican spics” and said Spanish was a “foul language.” One plaintiff, who complained to human resources about the English-only policy, was subsequently demoted from supervisor to server. The plaintiff, who had worked as a supervisor for 25 years, refused to accept the demotion and was then fired.

Sergio Vitela, one of the plaintiffs represented by Espinoza Law Firm, worked for La Cantera for 12 years. Vitela said he was fired after speaking Spanish on the job. He and his father both worked at La Cantera at the time.

“My father, he speaks Spanish, and they were telling me not to talk to my dad in Spanish, and I can’t [not speak Spanish] – it’s my father,” Vitela said. “That’s when I started seeing the first signs of them not liking our culture and race, really. They were telling us not to speak any Spanish.”

Vitela said his father understands English, but not being allowed to speak in his native language was difficult. According to Vitela, Espinoza, and some La Cantera staffers, Vitela is the only person in the group of 23 individuals who filed a claim with EEOC who speaks English fluently — the rest speak it proficiently enough to do their jobs. Vitela said he had to encourage his coworkers to file an EEOC claim against La Cantera for discrimination, as many of them were afraid of losing their jobs.

“Whatever [La Cantera was] doing, it’s illegal,” Vitela said.

Spomer said at Destination Hotels, the company that operates La Cantera, they celebrate San Antonio's heritage.

"We work very hard to foster an environment which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity," Spomer said. "We’re proud that we employ a diverse, multicultural workforce, and encourage our associates to converse with our guests and each other in a language that was mutually understood. And they’ve always been allowed to do that."

Spomer said the only language guideline at the resort is that employees speak the language in which guests speak to them.

"It's part of the service business," he said. "When spoken to in one language, we should speak in that language."

Spomer added that employees are welcome to speak to each other in the language they choose.

"If there are no guests and you’re in the associate cafeteria or in the back of the house corridors, feel free to converse in a language that whoever you’re speaking to mutually understands," he said. "That's been going on since the day I’ve been here."

Javier Espinoza, attorney at Espinoza Law Firm, said it took claimants a lot of courage to file a complaint against their employer.

Jackie Wang / Rivard Report

Javier Espinoza of Espinoza Law Firm explains the discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC at a press conference on Monday, Sept. 24. Plaintiffs of the lawsuit stand behind him.

“They could have said, ‘I’m not gonna burn a bridge, I want to keep my job,’” he said. “But they said, ‘I want to do something because, this isn’t right for anybody in this town.’”

Usually, the EEOC either gives claimants a “right to sue” letter or determines there is not enough evidence to do so, Espinoza explained. But in this case, the agency found the claims were valid and the evidence strong enough to bring the lawsuit forward itself.

“That’s like a 600 pound gorilla behind us, for sure,” Espinoza said, adding that this is the first lawsuit of this nature in San Antonio to the best of his knowledge.

“I think speaking Spanish is innate to Hispanics,” Espinoza said. “When you grow up with something innate to you – your language, the food you eat, the music you listen to – I have no right to discriminate against your culture."

66 thoughts on “La Cantera Denies Claims in EEOC Discrimination Lawsuit

  1. Is this a joke? English only! If you can’t handle it, then move on. I agree with the resort… at some point; if you’re wanting to be in this country, take advantage of all the good that is available to you, and be a viable part of the community, then learn to speak the language or go back where you came from…

    • Jesus, the sheer narrow minded bigotry you’re displaying is jarring. Not because if your last name, but because you’re a human adult who still chooses to believe this way. Telling a group of people to disavow a language they’ve learned is appalling. If at spike French, Germsn, Manderin, would you still have the same asinine beliefs?

    • I was born in the US and I’m proficient in English and Spanish. If I choose to speak Spanish at work it is my perogative. As a matter of fact, I’m also excel at speaking Spanglish or Espanglish…whichever you like to call it. So where would you like me to go?

      • It is wonderful that you are proficient in both languages. But respect the fact that if you went to say Mexico, you would have to speak Spanish and no one would accept your English, german, french, or any other language. So, please accept the same here in America where the first language is English. Unfortunately, today, it is all about “my right”. It is very frustrating when in line at a store and the clerk is engaging in friendly conversation with the guest in Spanish and causing the line to back up. Behind me is a French woman and she speaks no English, but she does not expect the clerk to engage her either!

        • Anna. I have traveled all over the world, people in other countries either all know English or they try their hardest to communicate in English. Most residents of other countries speak multiple languages with proficiency. The second half of your complaint shows that your problem is not with language, its with people holding you up in line. For this, I wish you luck. I suggest you travel a little, go to France…see how everyone will speak English to you.

        • Anna seems you need to travel some. I’d you go to Mexico you are not expected to talk in Spanish. Especially in tourist attraction staff is very proficient in not only English but many different languages. In reference to the grocery clerk, they carry conversation in English and hold up the line as well. I really don’t see your point regardless of the dialect the line is being held up. But since it is Spanish it’s an issue but if the conversation was in English it would not. smh

        • Maybe you need to take some time and learn another language. I’m an American born and raised. I have learned french and have picked up some Spanish. It has enriched my life. I love hearing people talk in their native language . Learn from it,embrace it you may be a better person for it

        • I have the same complaint about English non-transaction conversations a clerk and a customer get wrapped up in while I have to wait, along with everyone else line, while they have their unnecessary (and usually uninteresting) annoying yap-fest.
          Besides, the lawsuit is NOT about employees speaking Spanish to customers; it’s about employees speaking Spanish to each other on btreaks or when out of customers’ earshot.

    • You are the joke. Need to know all the facts before you post. It is not about not speaking English but about speaking Spanish, Chicanito renegado. Stop the HATE.

    • I get your point; expressed somewhat harsh. Yes, everyone should learn to speak the language of the country you live in. Also, a person should not be stripped of who they are as a people. I hope you don’t agree that what was done to the Native American is right.
      As for not wanting to hear Spanish spoken or be exposed to our beautiful culture; then maybe those that feel this way, may want to move to another city. Viva Mexico

        • Seriously?? Texas belonged to Mexico: It WAS Mexico. Then a bunch of white guys moved in who wanted to keep slaves, which was against the law in Mexico. Also, they agreed to some terms as immigrants that they immediately violated, and took up arms against their new nation (Mexico). That’s what was going on at the Alamo (also in San Antonio, btw). California, New Mexico, and Arizona were also MEXICO. We took the land from Mexico by INVADING THEM with an ARMY. The people in those states were Mexican and Native Americans. They speak/spoke SPANISH and Native languages. We have no “official” language in the US and unless you speak a Native American language you have no more claim to any of this than the Mexican Americans you’re deriding. Learn a little history, dude.

    • Ud. no intiende la problema. Ellos eran un parte de la “viable community” hasta que los despidió de su trabajo. Y ud. con el nombre GUTIERREZ? De donde viene ud? Y otra cosa, aquí en Tejas, la lengua de nuestro tierra era
      Español por siglos! Los gringos eran invitado aquí y después robaron nuestro tierra… y ellos nunca intentaron hablar nuestro lenguaje. Es una pena que tengas esta perspectivo contra su raíz. Someone sounds ashamed to be Hispanic. Aside from your narrowedminded view of this situation, La Cantera and their White only corporate philosphy needs a comeuppance! How dare they take advantage of our heritage, our Hispanic city, enjoy and promote the romance of our culture then dis our people like that! I hope they lose millions!

      • It is wonderful that you are proficient in both languages. But respect the fact that if you went to say Mexico, you would have to speak Spanish and no one would accept your English, german, french, or any other language. So, please accept the same here in America where the first language is English. Unfortunately, today, it is all about “my right”. It is very frustrating when in line at a store and the clerk is engaging in friendly conversation with the guest in Spanish and causing the line to back up. Behind me is a French woman and she speaks no English, but she does not expect the clerk to engage her either!

    • I think that we have gone too far in this country. We have always been a nation built on foreigners coming in and establishing what every one has instilled in the world, ” coming for the American Dream”. To tear that down and instill bigotry is not what our founding fathers wanted for this new world. I have co-workers that speak Spanish at times. Do I like it. no. do I tolerate it. yes. Sometimes its easier for them to convey what they are saying in their native language. Shame on you for saying that they are not a viable part of this country.

    • Really, you are in a City where even the name is Spanish!!! We need to stop judging people for what language they speak or where they are from. As long as the work is being done correctly and not offending anyone it should not be a problem. And besides the employer has no right to decide in what language you can or can’t talk to your dad. ( like the worker mentioned in this article) Please grow up people. Even the resorts name is in Spanish!!!! Workers win !!!

    • Ummm… Where they came from is San Antonio! We speak Spanish here, alongside English. Don’t judge us by color, either. I’m a white person with red hair. Why don’t you go back to where ever you came from? The US has no official language, and Spanish was spoken here a hundred years before anybody spoke English…

    • I’m a native English speaker living 50 miles north of the resort. I appreciate the multicultural character of this region and thoroughly enjoy hearing the different languages spoken around San Antonio – and not just Spanish. San Antonio has a large refugee community and foreign students (University of Texas at San Antonio is next to La Cantera). I don’t know where Sam Gutierrez lives but I suspect he’s not a Texan. Houston, my hometown, is currently one of the most culturally diverse city in our country. Speak Spanish, French, Italian, whatever, around me – an elderly white female. My brain LOVES the stimulation of other languages! “Small” brains think “small and limited” thoughts – different languages expand my mind.

  2. The name alone of this resort is called in Spanish ” LA CANTERA ” and they want English only.then change the name too. U want ur business to blend in with the city but u don’t want ur employees speaking Spanish. It’s like being by the river walk and not hear mariachi’s only country .

  3. The EEOC only files such lawsuits if there is a big payoff. When have you ever seen the EEOC file a claim on behalf of 1 individual. This is the first time in years the EEOC has filed a lawsuit in SA. Discrimination permeates in San Antonio. It’s about time the EEOC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mexican Americans.

    • Clearly, you don’t understand what the role of the EEOC is. The investigate allegations and determine if a person has the “right to sue”. YES, they can assist an individual. They do not act as their attorney, only determine if the case has legs. I know because they assisted me in a case years ago.

  4. So tell me, what language is OUR Constitution Written in, yeah, didn’t know it was Multi-Lingual. Disturbing. I find it VERY uncomfortable to have someone speaking a language I do NOT understand in front of me. Worse yet, you NEVER know what someone is planning. Nope, The Resort is RIGHT.

    • Sounds like a good time to learn new languages!! Keep learning new things, it will make you less fearful of the the changing world around you.

    • If you went with a friend to France or China or Denmark or hell, Mexico. Imagine if you were given a hard time for talking to your friend in English. Now, how do you feel being treated badly for doing something so natural?

      Do you get it now?

    • Our Constitution was written by white slaveowners. And you contend that it’s written in English is meaningful? Sorry you are uncomfortable when folks nearby are speaking a language you don’t understand. I wonder if you are as uncomfortable as T. Jefferson’s slaves were every minute of their lives? Are you uncomfortable when deaf people are speaking to each other in sign language? Why are you so insecure and think everyone is out to getcha?

  5. There’s a lot of discrimination that happens here in beautiful San Antonio. Major corporations that have their call centers located by the Sea World area do this type of discrimination all the time. First they want for you to use your skills of being fluent and then turn around and say that they won’t pay you language deferential. This corporation prefers to pay a 3rd party company to translate for the customer despite the fact the customer service representative is fluent in Spanish.

  6. Dont go to Canada then either. They speak FRENCH there! GASP! The nerve of people retaining their identity. Lets all homoginize to not offend your ignorance. You should probably never visit your homeland..most Europeans speak 3 languages. It would shock you. 🤣

    • What do you call a person who can speak two languages?
      Bilingual.
      What do you call a person who can speak three languages?
      Trilingual.
      What do you call a person who can speak many languages?
      Multilingual.
      What do you call a person who can speak only one language?
      An American

  7. Oh, my goodness! It’s hard to believe, and very disappointing that this disrespectful attitude is still going on in San Antonio!!!

  8. San Antonio’s biculturism is one of our strongest assets, distinguishing us from other U.S. cities by lend us a cosmopolitan flair. Our very name and the name of the establishment that is discriminating against its employees are Spanish. Biculturallism includes not only food, music, customs, but also language.

    As a native Anglo and bilingual San Antonian, I am appalled that this employer not only flouts the law of the land in its employment practices, but has the effrontery to flash it’s hateful backside by defending this oppressive policy.

    It’s unfortunate, but somewhat amusing, that those who do not speak Spanish want to lift up their own ignorance.

  9. Clearly the people posting here about monolingual ideals have NEVER traveled outside of the US and are ignorant to the norms of the ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD WHERE PEOPLE SPEAK ON AVERAGE THREE LANGUAGES! As Americans we are limited and finally are starting to embrace a multicultural climate. La Cantera caters to a population from Mexico and it’s only logical the staff be able to accommodate. This is pure bigotry and ignorance. The more languages you can speak, the more valuable you are. Period! “La Cantera “is Itself a word in SPANISH!!!

  10. Hey guess what? If you speak Spanish, get a job with the city of San Antonio, you get paid $50 More per month, if you just pass the Spanish speaking test! What a bonus the city gives!

      • No, jmf, discrimination is when you are discriminated against for something you ARE (minority, female, gay, disabled, etc.) , not for a skill you do or don’t possess (Spanish fluency).

        • You are wrong, 85% of city employees are Hispanic and grew up speaking Spanish, sorry, not a skill. The female anglo or black, abled or disabled, working for the city is a minority and discrimintated against while the Hispanic gets $50 more per month for the same job.

          • Dont guess you dont know, but the federal law says Women in general are a minority, white, brown, black, or yellow. Point is Spanish speaking is not a skill when it comes to hispanics earning more money due to capability to speak spanish, since most were raised speaking spanish and had to learn the SKILL of speaking English when they began school. Hence, this is why English is taught as a first language in school. Also, please refrain from calling me disparaging names, “julioMF”

          • Jmf aka Julio,

            We know you are one and the same person posting under different names. You have been warned via email to stop this. This is your final warning.

          • Mark, btw,I speak 2 languages, spoke English from birth, and learned the SKILL of speaking Spanish as a 2nd language starting in Jr yr of high school, and continued more in college. Forgot most of it, but now use it more and more here in SA due to large hispanic population using it as a 1st language, to prove this very point of this article!

          • You are mistaken Hanna. This must make you and Mark one in the same person also. And I have not received any email to warn me of anything. Are you trying to discourage my comments??

          • We discourage dishonest commenting. Commenting under multiple names falls in that category.

          • Sooo you’re saying speaking Spanish is a skill. Speaking of English, you know what disparaging means, right?

  11. Foreign languages. Can be dangerous in a work environment. If they are threatening or planning to do harm. Or. Making nasty comments everyone should have the right to understand what they are saying .as Americans we should not be subject to have to learn their language. They come here and it should be mandated that English in work places .public places be spoken. These days people have to be aware of their surroundings . It’s that simple. They leave their country because their unhappy. or.
    displaced whatever the reason and get here and still not happy with Americas ways.

    • Sunny cole, What language did Timothy McVea and that Nichols guy use when they plotted to bomb that building in Oklahoma City, killing all those people, including a good number of kids? Don’t tell me it was English?!?!?! But, Sunny, you claim all acts of terror were planned in a foreign language.
      As for “everyone should have the right to understand [what others are saying],” what about people with hearing loss? Don’t we have the right to (over)hear other conversations? Shouldn’t there be a legal volume level so we can all hear other people’s conversations, even if they are none of our bizness? Sheesh.

  12. I agree with Mike , as long as the work is done well and cheerfully I could care less what language is spoken by the worker . On a related issue — are the Spanish speaking workers getting the same pay for comparable work as are the English speaking only workers . Finally who interacts with the super rich Mexicans with little or no English speaking ability who stay at the resort and spend a LOT of money ?

  13. I am a 65 year old who immigrated with my first language of German as a ten year old in 1963. I speak English always and have earned a BA and MA in English. As a volunteer activity I teach ESL. Ones birth language is a part of one’s soul. To this day, my heart sings and I feel a total sense of wellness when I read and speak my birth language. Let’s set aside our prejudices and recognize what Spanish brings to San Antonio and the US. Spanish was actually spoken here before English. Even though more people speak English as a second language than any other in the world, we should be humble and not expect the rest of the world to abandon or subordinate others.

  14. I have had coworkers who would switch to speaking spanish/spanglish as I walked up. It was very obvious that they were excluding me. However, I uunderstand a lot more spanish than I speak, so I understood what they were saying about me and other anglo coworkers. (What they were saying was NOT complimentory.)

    Sometimes, I would finally answer, in spanish, a question I heard one of them ask. That usually broke up the “party” and everyone would wander off.

    I considered their efforts to be rude and considered reporting them to HR because they were creating a “hostile work environment”.

    • I agree with you Ralph. But, it is not only for those speaking in Spanish but anyone speaking in their native language. It is very rude when they do this. I believe that if you are going to live here in the U.S. then you should learn to speak the ENGLISH language. If you want to speak in your native language then do it at home. I don’t believe that workers should use the excuse that they don’t know English. You live here, then learn how to speak it or go back to your home country. Oh, and by the way, you better be here legally and have become a citizen! If not, again, go back to where you came from!

  15. The US does not have an official language because their is so much diversity in our states. For anyone to say that one should speak English because this is America, is merely blind. Pick up a sociology and a linguistics book and read about how our country functions. Do not make a comment without the proper knowledge. Spanish is part of a culture of whom we should respect.

  16. I believe we are in San Antonio, most speak Spanish, the resorts name is La Cantera is Spanish, this is ridiculous… if an employee speaks Spanish it’s not illegal… are they going to get fired for saying La Cantera or do they have to say the Quarry…

    • I come from a family that immigrated from Italy due to a Fascist government. My grandparents learned to speak English. They lived in New York. A city swarming with immigrants from all over the world who also learned to speak English.
      As a child, I asked my grandparents why my mother did not speak Italian as they did. The told me they wanted their children to be “Americans”. I was saddened as I thought it would be wonderful to have learned Italian as a child.
      Many years later I moved to Mexico to teach. I had to speak Spanish in all my business transactions, even though most of the people I dealt with were multi-lingual. I personally felt it was rude to presume that a conversation should be held in English, not the native language of Spanish. If you deal with day to day things like the grocery, pharmacy, gas station, etc. you had better speak Spanish.
      We do not have an official language, at least not so far! However, I was surprised when I returned to the US that when I went to call the utilities or any other business I had to mark 1 for English. In Mexico, you get one option, Habla Espanol, nada mas!
      I do think it is rude to switch a conversation to another language when another person walks in the room. A bit too obvious to me.
      In short, be happy with the freedom you have here if anything we see how quickly it can be taken away.

  17. Responses like many of these really disappoint me. Why do so many always have to insist that it be my way or no way in situations that involve other people? We have too many self-centered people trying to force everyone else into living the way they insist that they should live–even trying to bully others into doing what they say they should do.

  18. This is Texas, and Spanish was spoken here for one hundred years before English speakers came around. I don’t see why anybody should cater to these johnny-come-latelies who are too lazy to learn the native language. This is Texas, and you should speak Spanish or move to New York City.

  19. This reddit comment says does a great job of breaking this down.
    https://www.reddit.com/r/sanantonio/comments/9irkii/firing_people_for_speaking_spanishin_san_antonio/e6mb33s

    ‘unwritten policy’

    Read: Unenforceable

    The complaint states Bischoff referred to Hispanic employees using a derogatory term and called Spanish a “foul language,” while Primavera allegedly mocked employees’ accents.

    Already enough to make a case

    The lawsuit alleges the operators allowed people of other national origins to speak their native languages, but forbade Hispanic employees from speaking Spanish.

    Digging the hole deeper

    When more than two dozen banquet employees spoke out in opposition of the discriminatory practice, some had their employment terminated and were replaced with non-Hispanic employees, the lawsuit states.

    Cakewalk to the bank!

  20. Bravo to the women and men who stepped forward.

    Hey La Cantera, check your guest lists, I’m sure an extensive number of your guest include those from Spanish speaking countries, not to mention, guests from this country who speak Spanish.

    What message are you sending to those who pay to stay in your hotel and patronize your restaurants and other services?

    Qué vergüenza, La Cantera (shame on you, La Cantera).

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