Albertsons Agrees To Pay $8.9 Million for Job Bias, Retaliation

Albertsons LLC, a national grocery chain, will pay $8.9 million and furnish other relief to settle three employment discrimination lawsuits filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced recently. EEOC had charged Albertsons with race, color, and national origin discrimination and retaliation at its Aurora, Colo., distribution center. The monetary relief will be distributed among 168 former and current employees.

All three of EEOC's cases stemmed from incidents at the Aurora distribution center, which is being closed for unrelated reasons. The first case, EEOC v. Albertsons LLC, Civil Action No. 06-cv-01273, was filed in 2006 and alleged a pattern or practice of workplace harassment and discrimination based on race, color, and national origin. According to the lawsuit, minority employees were repeatedly subjected to derogatory comments and graffiti. Blacks and Hispanics called many different offensive epithets.

EEOC said the offensive graffiti included racial and ethnic slurs, depictions of lynchings, swastikas, and white supremacist and anti-immigrant statements. The graffiti in a commonly used men's room was so offensive that several employees would relieve themselves outside the building or go home at lunchtime rather than use the restroom. Some of this graffiti remained for years until the restroom was remodeled in 2005.

EEOC also charged that minority employees were given harder work assignments and were more frequently and severely disciplined than their white co-workers. According to EEOC, managers were aware of, and even participated in, the harassment and discrimination.

The second lawsuit, EEOC v. Albertsons LLC, Civil Action No. 08-cv-00640, was filed in 2008 and alleged a pattern or practice of retaliation. EEOC alleged that dozens of employees complained about the discriminatory treatment and harassment and were subsequently given the harder job assignments, were passed over for promotion, and even fired as retaliation.

The third case, EEOC v. Albertsons LLC, Civil Action No. 08-cv-02424, was also filed in 2008 and alleged race discrimination on behalf of a single African American employee at the distribution center who was terminated.

"Employers simply cannot overlook or tolerate this kind of outrageous discrimination and retaliation. The EEOC certainly won't," said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. "We will aggressively pursue employers who violate the laws we enforce. And we'll insist on substantial and meaningful relief for the victims before settling these cases."

Besides the monetary relief, Albertsons agreed to submit to four years of court-ordered monitoring, and to institute an extensive training program to ensure that management is aware of and will comply with equal employment opportunity laws in the future.

"These cases presented the EEOC with some of the most egregious examples of race, color, and national origin discrimination the agency has seen in years," said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill, of the Phoenix District, which includes the Denver Field Office. "The graffiti was particularly shocking. Employers need to aggressively criticize such conduct, seek out the culprits and take swift action. Discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are no joke. Supervisors and managers need to take complaints seriously. And they need to know that we, as an agency, take retaliation very seriously."

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