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Salvation Army employee fired after sending out 'English only' letter

HOUSTON – An employee at a Salvation Army senior living complex has been fired after a resident said management sent her a letter complaining that she and others speak Spanish in the lobby and other common areas.

Katherine Hernandez, who has lived at the William Booth Garden Apartments for four years, said the director of the complex wrote a letter Friday stating:

“The United States of America is an English speaking country and those who come to the United States or born  here should learn to speak the language. It is rude to sit in the lobby and speak Spanish when there is a resident sitting in the lobby as well who does not speak Spanish. The exclusion of the non-Spanish speaking person is unacceptable. As has happened several residents have asked what is being said as they feel offended and left out of the conversation. It is perfectly acceptable for non-Spanish speaking resident to ask what is being said and have the conversation translated. Most of our residents speak English, however the conversation in the lobby and Activity Room is primarily Spanish. This is grossly unfair to the 25% who do not speak Spanish and needs to change.”

Hernandez said she was surprised to receive the letter.

“I feel like my rights are just being, you know, violated. Not only that, but I’m deprived of speaking my native language,” Hernandez said. “I went and asked my friends, ‘Hey, did you get a personal letter?’ They didn’t know what they were talking about, you know?”

She said others tend to speak Spanish in the lobby and she helps translate for those who don’t speak English.

Hernandez said she was aware of the complaints and explained to the director in a letter that she was trying to translate a conversation for someone.

“I take the time to stop staying what I’m saying and I translate, but they don’t believe me,” Hernandez said. “They don’t believe me, so I just stopped trying to communicate.”

The second-generation Texan said there was a flyer posted about a resident meeting on the 20th, “regarding recent complaints about Spanish being spoken in the lobby and the Activity Room and the exclusion of non-Spanish speaking residents.”

In a statement sent Tuesday, the Salvation Army said: “The recent complaint regarding Spanish being spoken at one of our communities is currently under investigation. The Salvation Army of Greater Houston is committed to making sure those we serve feel welcome and meeting the needs of the community without discrimination through a wide range of programs and services.”

After our story aired on KPRC2 and was posted on Click2Houston.com, the Salvation Army sent a statement Wednesday that read:

"The Salvation Army is dedicated to creating safe and uplifting environments for our residents and does not tolerate discriminatory remarks or actions. Upon learning of inappropriate language used in communication from one of our employees to a William Booth Garden resident, we immediately investigated. The employee in question is no longer a Salvation Army employee. We are reaching out to the resident and will work to ensure that she and all residents feel comfortable sharing current or future concerns."