FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — The owner of a Fort Wayne business that posted a sign barring Burmese people from entering has apologized, but it may not be enough to get the business off the hook with civil rights groups.
Ricker Oil Co.’s coin-operated laundry could still face an investigation from Fort Wayne’s Metropolitan Human Relations Commission. Director Gerald Foday says the panel is considering to file a complaint and could pursue charges if an investigation warrants it.
Sanctions could include fines, mandatory employee training, and other remedies, Foday said.
At issue is a sign an employee posted on the door that said, “For sanitary reasons, there are no Burmese people allowed.”
Fort Wayne is home to about 5,000 Burmese, the largest concentration in the United States.
Immigrants from the country, also known as Myanmar, often chew betel nut and spit the residue, which can result in red stains.
Ricker Oil spokesman Jonathan Bausman said that they discussed its concerns about certain behaviors with Burmese advocates and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health. He said other companies have expressed similar concerns.
Company president Jay Ricker said the company has removed the sign and is considering disciplinary action against the employee who posted it. He posted an apology on YouTube.
Health department spokesman John Silcox said there are “ongoing issues about what can and can’t be tolerated” with newly arriving immigrant groups.
“You can sanction behavior based on health,” he said, but noted that businesses can’t banish an entire group based on the actions of certain individuals.
Kyaw Soe, who moved to Fort Wayne from Burma in 1993 and is director of IPFW’s New Immigrant Literacy Program, says Ricker’s apology isn’t enough.
Signs still posted inside the laundry in English and Burmese read, “No spitting! No betel nut!”
“There were signs [in Burmese prohibiting certain actions] in every room. There were 22 in Burmese to only one in Spanish,” Soe said. “It’s nonverbal behavior that is non-welcoming. We need more education, more cultural sensitivity.”
Desiree Koger-Gustafson, attorney for the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, which serves mostly low-income and immigrant clients, said those signs were provided by the Burmese Advocacy Center. ♦