IGA franchisee suspends supervisor at centre of language storm
MONTREAL—After 24 hours at the centre of a language dispute, the head of an IGA franchise suspended the manager who forbade employees from speaking English on the premises in a troubling case she originally believed a “bad joke.”
CTV Montreal exclusively reported Wednesday that a South Shore teenager working at the IGA on Sir-Wilfrid-Laurier Blvd. was told she did not have the right to speak English at the store.
On Thursday, store owner Louise Menard said the communication breakdown with her senior staff would be immediately corrected, starting with the indefinite suspension of her director of human resources. The head of HR, who was the voice of the woman on the recording, has worked under Menard for 10 years.
"Whether it’s from poor upbringing, burnout, or fatigue, I don’t know, except it was very poor communication since she knows the regulations of our workplace. We want her to take a break now,” Menard told CTV. “She accepts the decision and understands it.”
Teenager Meaghan Moran recorded a conversation with her managers when she quit her part-time job. The head of HR said staff risked being divided into “ghettos” if other languages were spoken and that French should be spoken “on the employer’s property, even in the employee’s room.” The male voice belonged to the store manager, who Menard said would not be suspended.
“What troubled me was that we were keeping (employees) from speaking their own language whether it’s English, Russian, or Spanish in the store. I found this very difficult and very unjust,” Menard told CTV. “We just ask them to speak a common language between themselves. But to keep them from speaking their own language is absolutely false. I was aghast.”
Menard apologized to her English clientele but stopped short of offering an apology to Moran.
Menard said she was embarrassed by the situation after 32 years of serving clients of all languages on the South Shore.
“At first I fell for it, I thought it was a very bad joke. But when I heard the recording I realized that communication was very poor within,” said Menard.
Moran felt vindicated by Menard’s decision to suspend the head of HR and was “happy” to be heard. But she said she would be filing a complaint with Quebec's human rights commission, which she spoke with on Thursday.
“For sure you have to speak French first to the customers, that's customer service in Quebec, that's reality,” Moran, a fluently bilingual Anglophone, told CTV. "However, on your breaks you're entitled to speak any language you want.”
Before Menard suspended her manager, a social media campaign was being organized to boycott the St-Lambert IGA store on Friday evening. It was unclear whether that would proceed.
Earlier, Quebec Minister Responsible for Montreal Jean-Francois Lisee said “common sense should be the rule” as the CEO of Sobeys, IGA’s parent company, distanced itself from the Saint-Lambert store in the National Post.
There is no provision in Quebec’s French language charter that prevents employees from speaking English to each other during the course of a workday.