Lawsuit Claims Jewel-Osco Discriminates Against Older Employees

Image courtesy of (Payton Chung)

Age is just a number, unless that number is used by an employer to discriminate against you, which is why four current and former employees of Jewel-Osco are suing the supermarket chain.

The lawsuit [PDF], filed in federal district court in Chicago this week, alleges that the employees — who range in ages from 56 to 61 and collectively worked for the company for 140 years — were subject to a series of retaliatory measures by the company such as being transferred to failing stores, criticized and reprimanded, and prevented from seeking the same opportunities as younger employees.

Two of the plaintiffs continue to work for the company but are on medical leave, while two others were fired in 2015.

According to the lawsuit, issues for the men — who all served as store directors for the company — began in 2011 when Jewel-Osco restructured its store leadership.

Prior to the restructuring, each Jewel-Osco location had two store directors, one focused on grocery and the other focused on the stores’ pharmacy department. After the changes, each store had only one store director.

Because the men turned down the buyout packages, the suit alleges, they were targeted and retaliated against by Jewel-Osco, including being transferred to new stores, all of which were underperforming locations.

During the transfer period, the plaintiffs claim that they were not trained, or received insufficient training, for the position they had not previously overseen — either grocery or pharmacy department duties.

“After arriving at these failing and underperforming stores, Plaintiffs were subjected to heightened scrutiny, excessive micromanaging, criticism, reprimands and abusive language, and required to work excessive hours by their District Managers and/or Vice President, including for minor flaws that had never been an issue,” the suit states.

Despite making changes to the stores, increasing sales and customers service reviews over a period of time, the plaintiffs claim they continued to receive constant criticisms, write-ups, and unwarranted negative performance reviews by the district managers.

In some instances, the men claim that they were reprimanded for “minor store issues and flaws” that had not previously been disputed. For example, on one visit to his store in 2015, district managers reprimanded one of the men because apple cores were not in perfect alignment.

Additionally, the men claim that they were unfairly targeted by the district managers, who excessively reviewed them for any flaw or issue that could be used to lead to a demotion or termination.

In just a three-week period, one of the men claims that managers visited his store six or seven times.

Another defendant claims that the district managers approached his subordinates and union representatives seeking negative information on the director.

When the directors filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they claim they received further retaliation from the company.

In one case, a manager was transferred yet again to another store that had missed sales goals for years. After the move, the suit alleges that district managers took action against the director, despite never addressing the store issues with a previous, younger director.

Eventually, two of the directors were terminated from their positions, and two others took medical leave as a result of the stress caused by district managers.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages, including lost wages and benefits.

[via The Chicago Tribune]