Posted August 19th, 2021.
Kraft Heinz’s Tulare, CA dairy plant allegedly “rife with anti-Black slurs, innuendos, threats, and discrimination”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, August 19, 2021 – Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP today filed a $30 million civil action in the Eastern District of California against Kraft Heinz Foods Company on behalf of former employees Alex Horn, Lance Aytman, and Keith Hooker.
The action alleges Horn, Aytman, and Hooker were subjected to a racially hostile and discriminatory environment throughout their tenures at the Tulare, California dairy facility operated by Kraft Heinz, including death threats, consistent racial slurs, and vandalism of their personal property. Plaintiffs allege that they repeatedly asked management to investigate the racism, but Kraft Heinz openly tolerated the hostile environment and retaliated against plaintiffs for raising concerns. Ultimately, according to the Complaint, Kraft Heinz forced Horn, Aytman, and Hooker out of work, illegally terminating their employment.
Horn, Aytman, and Hooker are represented in the matter by Sanford Heisler Sharp San Francisco managing partner Felicia Gilbert; San Diego managing partner Ed Chapin; and Baltimore associate Rebecca Ojserkis.
According to the Complaint, plaintiffs Horn, Aytman, and Hooker were subjected to severe racial animus the entire time that they worked at Kraft Heinz, specifically between 2012 and 2018. Plaintiffs allege that a note was placed in Horn’s locker referencing Black employees as “n*ggers,” swastikas were drawn on multiple Black employees’ lockers, and non-Black employees casually used the n-word and racist stereotypes in conversation. The hostile environment culminated in several anonymous notes being placed in Black employees’ lockers that read “Quit or die n*gger.”
“Kraft Heinz is recognized all over the world as an all-American, family-friendly brand. Unfortunately, for our clients, Kraft Heinz symbolizes virulent racism, harassment, and intolerance given what they experienced at the Tulare plant,” said Ms. Gilbert.
The anti-Black abuse allegedly came from both peers and supervisors who controlled whether plaintiffs would receive promotions, transfers and raises. According to the Complaint, Plaintiffs were passed over in favor of non-Black employees with less experience, often as retaliation for their reporting the racist abuse. Aytman, for example, was allegedly told that even though he “’had interviewed better than anyone else’” for a position, the hiring panel had been instructed not to hire him.
When confronted by plaintiffs about these racist incidents and denials of promotion, managers told them to “keep their heads down or else they could join the unemployment line,” the Complaint alleges. The plaintiffs were also allegedly subjected to less desirable assignments, heightened scrutiny, and discipline as a result of their reporting the racism they endured.
After Plaintiffs found the death threats in their lockers, a manager allegedly told Horn that Kraft Heinz’s corporate leadership instructed Plant management to not perform an investigation of the death threats for fear of disgruntling employees. The Complaint alleges that Horn’s relatives reported the death threats to the Tulare Police Department and to the FBI.
Plaintiffs suffered severe mental, emotional, and physical distress from the hostile work environment and discrimination they faced, the Complaint alleges.
“We are proud of our clients for speaking out against discrimination and hostility experienced in Kraft Heinz’s Tulare facility,” said San Diego Managing Partner Ed Chapin. “Their careers and health have been adversely impacted. We look forward to a jury’s verdict.”
The action alleges Kraft Heinz violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866; the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. It also alleges Kraft Heinz violated the Ralph Civil Rights Act of 1976 and the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, and that Kraft Heinz wrongfully discharged plaintiffs in violation of public policy as well as other statutory violations and negligence.
The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $30 million, a declaratory judgment that Kraft Heinz’s racially motivated employment practices are illegal and violated plaintiffs’ rights under California and federal law, and an award of litigation costs and expenses.
About Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP
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