Businesses not required to provide translators - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Businesses not required to provide translators

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Posted: Friday, May 14, 2010 11:21 am

A Glendale optometrist's year-long legal fight over what services he had to provide for a Spanish speaking customer is going to help provide new protections to other businesses.

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed legislation spelling out that nothing in state law requires businesses to provide "trained and competent" interpreters when a customer comes in speaking a language other than English.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Walker said that's probably always been the law. But that didn't stop John Schrolucke from having to spend time and money defending himself and his dental practice before Walker's office finally dismissed the case.

Schrolucke told lawmakers the whole incident stems from when a woman came into his office and spoke only Spanish.

Schrolucke said the woman did bring her 12-year-old child with her. But he said allowing the child to interpret for the parent would have gotten him into legal trouble.

Potentially more significant, Schrolucke said he faced a potential malpractice lawsuit if the child did not properly translate some of the more technical explanations being provided.

So he turned the woman away, telling her through her child to come back with someone at least 18 years old.

Schrolucke said he also gave the woman the option of going to one of two other optometrists who speak Spanish.

Instead, he said, the woman filed a discrimination complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

State law prohibits discrimination in places of "public accommodation against anyone because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin or ancestry." That category includes restaurants, hotels, theaters and any place that offers services or goods to the general public.

Schrolucke said he was given an option to settle. But that would have required him - and anyone who bought his business - to provide interpreters and documents in Spanish, something he said would set a bad precedent for not only his operation but other small businesses.

A year after the complaint was filed it was dismissed after the Attorney General's Office concluded there had been no civil rights violation.

But that wasn't the end of it. Upset with the whole process, Schrolucke approached Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, who agreed to sponsor what he called "clarifying language" to the state's civil rights law.

"Nobody should be treated like this," Huppenthal said. "It's nightmare to go through this. He was drug through the mud by us."

Walker, who is the litigation chief of the civil rights division, offered his own apology "for what does occasionally end up as state bureaucratic confusion."

But Walker told lawmakers that his agency is legally obligated to investigate complaints of discrimination. He said the system worked - eventually - when the complaint was dismissed.

Huppenthal introduced identical legislation last year. While it was approved by a Senate panel it never made it to the full Senate floor.

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