City agency: Cheesesteak shop's English-only policy discriminates
Monday June 12, 2006
By PATRICK WALTERS
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) An English-only ordering policy at one of Philadelphia's most famous cheesesteak joints has prompted a city agency to pursue a discrimination complaint.
The city's Commission on Human Relations plans to file the complaint Monday, alleging the policy at Geno's Steaks discourages customers of certain backgrounds from eating there, said Rachel Lawton, acting executive director.
Geno's owner Joseph Vento has posted two small signs at his shop, which is located in a diverse South Philadelphia neighborhood, telling customers, ``This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING 'PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH.''
In doing so, Lawton said, Vento is violating the city's Fair Practices Ordinance, which prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing on the basis of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
``It's discouraging patronage by non-English speaking customers because of their national origin or ancestry,'' Lawton said. She said her staff would likely serve the complaint to Geno's on Monday.
Vento, whose grandparents struggled to learn English after coming over from Sicily in the 1920s, said Monday that he has no plans to budge.
``I don't think I'm doing anything that's racist or discriminating,'' said the fiery 66-year-old, who says no customer has ever been turned away because of the policy. ``I would say they would have to handcuff me and take me out because I'm not taking it down.''
Geno's and its chief rival across the street, Pat's King of Steaks, form the epicenter of an area described as ``ground zero for cheesesteaks.''
Vento said he posted the sign about six months ago because of concerns over the debate on immigration reform and the increasing number of people from the area would could not order in English. The traditionally Italian community has become more diverse over the decades, with a growing number of immigrants from Asia and Latin America moving in.
After the city serves the discrimination complaint, Vento will get a chance to file a response. Lawton said the agency would hope to reach an agreement with Vento, but eventually he could be ordered to take down the signs or face fines.
If Geno's violates a city order, she said, the matter could end up in court.
``Let them do what they want to,'' Vento said. ``When it comes, then we'll deal with it.''
Geno's Steaks rocks!