Custard compromise: LULAC says Leon's workers can speak to customers in foreign language

MILWAUKEE -- A controversial English-only policy at Leon's Frozen Custard is no more.

LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens on Thursday, June 2nd announced that they have learned that Leon's Frozen Custard is concluding "a thorough review of all personnel policies" after it was learned that Leon's employees were only allowed to speak English to customers at the custard stand.

LULAC leaders say Leon's will now allow employees to speak to customers in their desired language if it is possible.

"In a time when it seems there are so many interested in creating division and trying to signal strength and stature at the cost of good governance in the community, we're very pleased that we were able to resolve this issue in an amicable manner," Darryl Morin with LULAC said.

LULAC released the following statement to FOX6 News:

“Following our consultation with the owners of Leon’s Frozen Custard and its counsel, we are pleased that Leon’s Frozen Custard is concluding a thorough review of all personnel policies to ensure they are in compliance with existing EEOC guidance and civil rights law. We are also pleased that Leon’s has documented their policy which allows Leon’s Frozen Custard employees to speak to their customers in the customer’s desired language if the employee is able. We appreciate the goodwill ownership has demonstrated in working with us to bring this issue to a close to the benefit of our community.”

Leon's Frozen Custard

On Thursday night, customers reacted to this change of heart.

"I think it just makes sense," Matthew Fox said.

"I think they made the right decision," Minerva Valdez said. "They should accommodate the customers.

"Customers are supposed to always be right," Clifton Agee said.

Some were outraged after learning of the "English-only policy" at Leon's in mid-May.

"Our goal from the start has been to support our community and to support the businesses within our community," Arturo Martinez with LULAC said.

This all started on May 17th, when Joey Sanchez overheard one of Leon's employees interacting with a Spanish-speaking customer.

Joey Sanchez

"She whispered to him in Spanish 'I`m not allowed to speak Spanish to you,'" Sanchez said.

Sanchez was next in line. He also placed his order in Spanish. The employee gave him the same response.

"I`m trying to understand or find the why," Sanchez said.

"This is very shocking. We're not going there anymore," Primitivo Torres with Voces de la Frontera said.

On May 18th, Ron Schneider, who owns Leon's Frozen Custard talked with FOX6 News about his policy.

Ron Schneider, owner of Leon's Frozen Custard

"I specifically tell (my employees) that I really don't want you to speak anything other than English at the window, because a good number of people who might come up and talk Spanish also speak English," Schneider said.

"This is clearly a violation of law, federal labor law, and we're asking the EEOC to make a thorough investigation," Torres said.

LULAC called for a federal investigation by the EEOC into the policy -- and there was a protest at the custard stand.

Leon's Frozen Custard

Amid this debate -- there was still a line at Leon's. Some customers said they showed up to support the English-only policy.

"The United States of America does business in English," a Leon's customer said.

"They're living here, working here for Lord knows how long and they haven't even bothered to learn the language?" Louise Bozek said.

"This is America. That's the bottom line. You want to come here and live? You learn the language," Dave Katzner said.

Leon's Frozen Custard

But Schneider's policy upset many in the largest Latino community in the state of Wisconsin.

"Tears came to my eyes," Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) said.

Zamarripa said she questions the legality of Schneider's policy, and said he owes the community an apology.

"We need to celebrate our diversity.  We are the most diverse part of the state," Zamarripa said.

Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) was one of those in line at Leon's on May 19th. He said he wanted to speak with Schneider to see whether a compromise could be reached.

"I've always seen Latino people working here and Latinos spending their money here and I always thought things were in really good shape and people come from all over Milwaukee and we're proud of our immigrant backgrounds," Zepnick said.

Leon's Frozen Custard

Schneider told FOX6 News by telephone on May 19th that it is just easier for his business if everyone speaks the same language. He said he was reiterating to his employees that they must do what they can to help customers. He told FOX6 News: "If you don't speak English, we will do everything we can to communicate with you."

Schneider said for customers, if there is a Spanish speaking worker at Leon's, that includes speaking Spanish.

Schneider said on May 19th that's not a change in his policy -- but a clarification of it.

Leon's Frozen Custard