PHOENIX - A Glendale optometrist's yearlong legal fight over what services he had to provide for a Spanish-speaking customer has translated into new protections for other businesses.
Gov. Jan Brewer has signed legislation affirming 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 has probably always been the law. But that didn't save John Schrolucke from having to spend time and money defending himself and his practice before Walker's office finally dismissed the case.
Schrolucke told lawmakers the incident stems from a patient who spoke only Spanish. Although she did bring her 12-year-old child with her to the office, he said allowing the child to interpret for the parent would have gotten him into legal trouble.
He 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 or 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," which include 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.
It took the Attorney General's Office a year to figure out there had been no civil rights violation and dismiss the case.
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 a 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.