Atticus controversy continues

More than a dozen protesters picketed outside Atticus Bookstore and Café on Chapel Street on Saturday, demanding a boycott of the eatery unless its management reverses its policy requiring employees to speak only English within customers’ earshot.

In response, Atticus manager Jean Marcel Recapet came outside and read a statement, saying Atticus is proud of the diversity of its employees and customers. He did not comment on the future of the controversial policy.

Protesters flocked to Atticus Bookstore and Café on Saturday, demanding that its owner recant a policy that requires employees to speak only in English around customers. But some patrons, including Estelle Davis (pictured), came to support the store.
Jeanne Snow
Protesters flocked to Atticus Bookstore and Café on Saturday, demanding that its owner recant a policy that requires employees to speak only in English around customers. But some patrons, including Estelle Davis (pictured), came to support the store.
The controversy over Atticus’s English-only policy for its employees has not let up.
Jeanne Snow
The controversy over Atticus’s English-only policy for its employees has not let up.

Speaking after Recapet, Eloy Lira, a Hispanic employee who has worked at Atticus for 13 years, said Atticus is “like my second home” and offers him and the other employees benefits such as health insurance and English lessons.

But Deborah Malatesta of the New Haven Workers Association said community leaders are not backing off and are considering legal action.

The protestors said they think the policy discriminates against minorities. They tried to convince people entering and passing by the café that the policy is unjust.

“We didn’t expect this sort of behavior from a business that has ‘Censorship Causes Blindness’ printed on the back of its company T-shirt,” the leaflets stated. The leaflets were also printed with Atticus’s controversial language policy, which begins “Here we speak English.”

Malatetsta, who sent a widely circulated e-mail Wednesday denouncing the policy, said the store’s statement was disappointing. She said the store has yet to provide any real information or say anything of substance about the policy. As for Lira’s support for Atticus’ management, Malatetsa said it was telling that the assistant manager accompanied Lira outside.

Malatesta said she will meet this week with Ward 15 Alderman Joseph Rodriguez, who is also condemning Atticus’s policy, and that the workers association will discuss possible legal action against the café at its Tuesday meeting. The protests are going national, she said, explaining that an association member will be speaking against Atticus’s policy on the Fox News television program “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday morning.

It remains to be seen whether the protests have hurt Atticus’s business. Atticus’s management declined to comment beyond its issued statement, but a sign that now hangs in the store reads: “We stand behind Charlie and Atticus” in both English and Spanish, referring to Atticus owner Charles Negaro.

The Facebook Group “Ex-Customers of Atticus Books” was created Jan. 22 and had 26 members as of press time, none of whom were Yale students.


  • The Right to Be Rude

    Censorship causes Blindness? Well, Rudeness causes Bankruptcy.

  • ?

    Tempest in a teashop?

  • Anonymous

    Liberalism will be the ruin of everyone. Dont people understand? If they dont learn English, the employees will forever be relegated to low paying jobs? The best way to learn a second language is to be forcefully immersed in it. These liberals need to stop worrying about everyone else’s rights and minorities need to stop squealing discrimination at every point. No, I am not White, I am a minority, non-native English speaking, offended by such rude employees. As #1 above said, I take my business elsewhere.

  • What country are we in?

    When in Rome do as the Romans….when in the United States speak ENGLISH please!!!
    Oh, and I am Cuban!!!! Minorities for English only!!!!

  • William Shakespeare

    Methinks the ‘professional outrage merchants’ doth protest too much.

  • To #3

    The employees at Atticus can all speak English very well. They just choose to occasionally communicate with coworkers in Spanish.

    Since when is it rude to speak a different language? Is it a right of the customer to eavesdrop on employee conversations?

  • Here we speak English

    In my experience Spanish-speaking employees often discuss customers in front of their faces. I’ve done it myself before. I agree with #3.

  • Etiquette, the Dinosaur in the livingroom.

    The highest purpose of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable—i.e. to NOT make them feel uncomfortable, at all cost.

    In a public place those who provide service are required to be mannerly.
    It’s part of the job description.

    Perhaps the most famous example of etiquette is Mrs. Herbert Hoover (apocryphal?) at a White House State Dinner where the guest of honor accidentally dropped a $10,000 crystal drinking goblet shattering it. To make the guest feel more comfortable about his expensive accident Mrs. Hoover dropped and broke her own $10,000 goblet.



  • Ted Jastrzebski

    I applaud the decision of Charles Nagaro to mandate that employees speak English within earshot of customers. After all if employees are speaking amongst themselves in their language then most would feel rather uncomfortable. Many would believe that the employees who could be speaking about the customers. More than anything, it is rude. Speaking English makes sense. After all we encourage English as a language to promote career advancement. I speak several languages but my first language is English.

  • Tedjazz

    I applaud the decision of Charles Nagaro. English should be spoken amongst the employees. I do encourage those employees speaking in their language at the bookstore but not within earshot of the customer. I believe that this is rude. Who knows whether of not they are speaking about the customers. I speak two other languages but consider English my first choice.

    Ted Jastrzebski

  • ’13

    This is just common courtesy – As someone who does not know Spanish, I don’t like when someone speaks a foreign language in my face.
    In the back, however, I think it is equally curteous to leave the workers alone and let them speak whatever language they like.

  • MedStudent

    This is ridiculous!!!! It is very common for businesses to have English only around customers unless the customer speaks another language and then it is best to help the customer in their preferred language. It is about the CUSTOMER, not about the comfort of the employee. Imagine if you went to the hospital and the doctors stood around you speaking in Spanish. You would panic thinking, are they talking about me? I used to buy my coffee other places, but from now on I will be a loyal Atticus customer.

  • antipk

    who the hell is this PK who always posts here? srsly–all this guy has is an ma and he thinks he knows everything. why is he so obsessed w/ yale?

  • antipk
  • KB ’10

    I will preface this by saying that I am Puerto Rican and multilingual.

    It is preposterous to claim that Atticus does not promote diversity, as is evidenced by the fact that a) nearly all of its employees are Latin American immigrants, and b) the manager promotes a tutoring program where Yale students tutor employees in English, and in return receive 50% discount cards as well as free drinks while tutoring. Thus, the management is covering the cost of this tutoring, with no charge to the employees.

    In response to #6: In fact, many of the workers speak very little English, which is why they do not take orders or work the register, preparing the food instead.

    In response to #3: I completely agree. Immigrants who do not have a working knowledge of English are very limited in their occupational opportunities, relegated to low-paying jobs as well as rampant exploitation and abuse by their employers (which is NOT the case at Atticus). I volunteered at New Haven Legal Assistance and witnessed this through a number of their clients.

  • international student

    Who cares what Atticus employees talk or think about you? As long as they are able to take my order in English (as I don’t speak Spanish myself), I’m fine. Although it might not be the case among (most) Yale students, I find the insistence of Americans to speak English everywhere quite annoying. But aren’t you happy if people address you in English when you travel abroad? So why shouldn’t foreigners be allowed to speak their native language in the U.S. If that hurts their career development it’s their own choice.

    As a side note, it’s pretty hypocritical of Atticus’s owner or manager to mandate his employees to speak only English as he himself likes to converse with French-speaking costumers in that language.

  • @12

    Umm…why would I assume any conversation around me was about me? You are both equally narcissistic and have some interesting self-esteem issues if it bothers you that others might be ‘talking about you’.

    We are all grown-ups here. No need to get our feelings hurt.

  • yale student

    This policy is racist, I will not go to Atticus Books as long as it treats its workers this way. Customers shouldn’t assume everything the employees say in Spanish is about them — and the employees shouldn’t assume their customers don’t speak Spanish! That’s not the point!

  • common sense

    A dozen people is considered a “flock” of protestors? My how our expectations have lessened. And if the employees spoke english, there would be no paranoia from customers as to whether they’re being spoken about. Spanish in back and at home, english in front. How simple is that? It just reinforces the idea the employees have no wish to assimilate.

  • MK

    While the policy itself is questionable, the first thing to my mind is: Who Really Cares? This policy is not a big deal one way or the other. These ‘protesters’ should concentrate on something more pressing, such as poverty and crime in New Haven or our continued wars in the Middle East. To waste their time and efforts protesting and defaming a unique and successful local business is also to do a disservice to New Haven – if Atticus closes, what do you think you’ll get there instead? Probably a vacant storefront. Maybe if you’re super lucky you’ll get a Panera.

  • Recent Alum

    Did anyone ever confirm whether the workers involved in this controversy are even U.S. citizens?

  • Yale 05

    Atticus has great food (Black Bean Soup especially) and is one of the places I always visited when I’m back in New Haven. I have no issue with employees speaking Spanish to each other. I think people need to understand that all the employees know English well. They take orders in English and chat with the customers in English. If they shout an order to a coworker in Spanish, what’s the big deal? This is a pretty stupid rule, and I hope Atticus gets rid of it soon.

  • Michele

    This is an AMERICAN OWNED BUSINESS and he is well within his rights to have his employees speak English…it’s like telling a Chinese owned business they can’t speak Chinese!!!! It is discriminitory to tell someone how to run HIS BUSINESS and yes that includes AMERICANS TOO!!!!

  • hmm

    Actually, on second thought, this policy is pretty stupid because it doesn’t hold up to very many tests. If the workers are only allowed to speak English, what are they supposed to do if a customer comes in who only speaks (or prefers to speak) Spanish? What about all of the other languages of people visiting Yale and New Haven from all over the world? If I worked at Atticus and wasn’t allowed to speak to a Japanese customer in Japanese (my native language), not only would I be pissed, it would also be really weird. Maybe Americans need to wake up to the reality of an international world and realize that although English is the language of choice for the vast majority of our country and a lot of the world, there are plenty of other good ways to communicate too.

  • Clique-ism is rude

    No one is saying that the waiter/tress cannot speak to the CUSTOMER in a second language, simply that the waiters/tresses cannot speak to EACH OTHER IN FRONT OF THE CUSTOMER in a second language.

    Cliques are rude. Didn’t you discover that in high school?


  • Confused

    Spoken Spanish at Atticus doesn’t make me uncomfortable; consistently slow service does. If it already takes fifteen minutes to bring me a container of pre-made bread pudding, why would I want to slow things down further by insisting that employees communicate with each other in a non-native tongue?

  • trg

    I applaud the decision of Charles Nagaro to mandate that employees speak English.

    This is America. If one lives and/or works in America speak English.

    If you don’t want to speak English go back to your home country.
    One way tickets are cheap and I’ll hold the door for you.

  • @27

    Can you show me where English is the official language of the US?

    Oh well – I’m personally looking forward when Hispanics are a plurality and dual-language is something everybody has to do.

  • Anon

    As the business business owner and employer, I believe Charles Nagaro can have his employees wear particular clothes, act in a manner he sees fit, speak in certain tone, wear their hair in a particular fashion, and many other requirements as he may deem appropriate.

    Works for Wal-Mart and local business as well. You do what the boss/owner/company wishes, it is his/her business. Isn’t that how it works when you work for someone?

    Unless it’s illegal, of course.
    And that’s not the case here.

    I’m not judging this as an English/anti-English discriminatory issue.

    I see it as a business owner running his lawful operation as he wishes vs. the general public telling him how to conduct his enterprise.

  • Migly

    I agree with the policy. I think this hysteria is unwarranted. I speak speanish but I notice how uncomfortable other people get when the cashiers at my cafeteria speak to each other in spanish. Hell the chinese employees constantly speak to each other in chinese because it’s easier for them, even though the company language is english. Speak whatever you want to at home or on your own time, but at work follow the company policy. If I went to germany I would be expected to speak german at the company. I would suck at it, but that’s not the point. I think it’s great that they get classes, if you poll the workers, I think you will find that all of them want to learn english anyway. Best way to learn another language is to immerse yourself in it.

  • One who knows

    This is purely a customer service issue: speak English in front of the customers because it makes them feel more comfortable. This is the same rule at nearly every major retail operation in the country. Atticus allows staff to speak Spanish “behind the scenes” and to respond to customers who address them in Spanish. This is a common-sense policy (and, incidentally, fully legal and not considered illegally discriminatory in any way).

    Other things to remember: Atticus hires a diverse staff, pays them excellent wages and provides full health benefits (you think Starbucks does?), and employs more Hispanic workers in New Haven than nearly any other business. It also donates thousands of loaves of bread and has charitable programs throughout the New Haven Hispanic community. To protest or boycott Atticus on the premise of racism or discrimination is beyond foolish — you would be depriving Hispanic workers of well-paying jobs with benefits! Atticus is actually a model of how a small business should be operated in the community. Don’t rush to judgment, think about what impact your cavalier threats of boycotts and protests will have on the employees who you nominally act like you are supporting!

  • anom

    This is a non issue. People have way too much free time if they’re demonstrating.

  • runningmom

    There is now a group on facebook called “Support Atticus Bookstore”. Please join and let them know that they have our support!

  • Spanish Student at Yale

    I am a Yale Staff PhD from Spain. I usually speak English everywhere in USA and I understand perfectly these “Spanish speaking” from Hispanic dependents. I have to say, that IT IS NEVER AGAINST the costumer, they chat in Spanish between them because is their mother tongue. The same you can speak English with your friend, because is the Language with you can better express yourself with. I am agree, that they should always try to speak to the costumers in English, but not between them.
    As far as I know, USA doesn’t have official language, English is speaking the facto, not de jure.

  • Student

    To #31, if they pay and excellent wage, why only immigrant can access to this job? Why they don’t hire USA citizens? If they can do that, the language shouldn’t be a problem. Answer: Because, they pay a low salary. Then, please keep your hypocrisy for yourself, to live in your lollipop world.

  • Leeny

    I was born in Canada and I speak from that perspective: As Canada has so painfully learned, language is the glue that holds a “melting pot” country together. The founders made Canada a dual language country at the outset and that unfortunate decision continues to threaten to unravel that great country.
    As with Canada, the US is a nation of immigrants who have thrived because, until now, we maintained our ethnicity but we “melted”.
    Atticus’s policy is a lifeline to these new members of our democracy. It is the opposite of discrimination…a push to help them learn English and get off of “the plantation” so to speak so that they can “adapt and thrive” to go on to achieve their potential in the social economic environment of the US.

  • G

    #31, Starbucks gives health benefits to anyone who averages at least 20 hours a week.

    There are a couple attitudes in these comments that really sicken me. First is the suggestion that by restricting someone’s use of language (or any other part of their behavior) you are helping them (to learn English, to “assimilate,” etc. The assumption underneath is that “those people” are not smart enough to know what’s in their best interest (i.e. speaking English all the time) and so the employer has to “help” by making rules for them. Besides the fact that this is a racist way of thinking, it also doesn’t make much sense; saying a few words to another employee in Spanish instead of English is really not going to affect your ability to learn English.

    Second: I’m a native English speaker who spends a fair amount of time in a neighborhood where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken. I understand Spanish and not Portuguese. Yeah, I’ve overheard employees talking smack about me when they thought I couldn’t understand; you know what? I don’t really care. If they knew I spoke Spanish they’d just wait until I left. I would be far more uncomfortable knowing they were banned from speaking their native language just ’cause I couldn’t speak it, and I think feeling that that is okay shows a lot of ego. Actually, I’m thinking about learning Portuguese, not to “listen in” on conversations but to show respect for my neighbors. I don’t think that just because I happened to be raised with the majority language means I get to sit on my butt and not learn any others.

    I’m matriculating at Yale next fall and I won’t be an Atticus customer unless they change the language policy.

  • Felix

    #36 Totally agree in the point that they SHOULD speak in English to the costumer, and also that will be better for them to learn properly to speak in English. But THIS IS NOT THE POINT. The point is that a Employer is mandating them NOT SPEAK their mother tongue to communicate between them, because it is GROSS.
    The English language of the country is not menaced and never will be. Don’t try to see a problem or to find and excuse for this stupid policy.

  • Medstudent

    To #28:
    Unfortunately no, the U.S. does not have an official language but many states do have English as their official language including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. Hey 27, would you look at that, I believe it is what you would call “a majority”. This is AMERICA, speak ENGLISH!!! And even though people may worry that they are being spoken about when others speak another language in front of them, when you are speaking your other languages, you know what we are all thinking of you.

  • Los Tres Amigos

    To #39. The point is that if you hire hispanic guys (because you pay low, and none want this job), you can not say “please don’t act like Hispanic, because is bad for the business”.