Class Action: Winn-Dixie – Age and Racial Discrimination (Discrimination- Class Action)
Grocer lawsuit gets boost
By SCOTT BLAKE
The Florida Commission on Human Relations has found “reasonable cause” to believe that a former Winn-Dixie supermarket employee from Brevard County was the victim of age and racial discrimination.
The ruling in favor of Tammie Leonard of Titusville clears the way for a class-action lawsuit against the Jacksonville-based supermarket chain, alleging age, gender and racial discrimination.
Melbourne lawyer Maurice Arcadier is preparing the suit for about 35 former and current Winn-Dixie employees, mostly from Brevard, where the company has 11 stores. Arcadier plans to file the suit this week in Brevard Circuit Court.
When asked for comment on the allegations, Winn-Dixie issued a statement, saying the company has an anti-discrimination policy.
“Winn-Dixie has an effective and well-communicated policy that prohibits harassment and discrimination in the workplace, as well as retaliation against those who raise concerns under the policy,” the statement reads.
“Winn-Dixie is not aware of any lawsuit alleging class-based discrimination having been filed against it at this time. Once we receive a copy of the lawsuit and have a chance to review the allegations, we will defend accordingly,” the company said.
The Commission on Human Relations “has determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful employment practice occurred,” the commission wrote in its ruling on Leonard’s complaint.
The complaint alleged that, after Leonard was hired by Winn-Dixie in March 2004, she was denied a job as a seafood manager at the Harrison Street store in Titusville, based on her age and race. Instead, a younger white woman received the job, according to the complaint.
A manager of the store where Leonard worked made “racial slurs and derogatory comments” to her, changed her work schedule to get her to quit, and asked her when she was going to leave the store, according to the complaint.
Leonard, who is black, called the company’s ethics hot line, but no one ever returned her calls, and she was fired in November 2006, the complaint states.
A ruling like the one Leonard received is relatively rare.
The Florida Commission on Human Relations found “reasonable cause” in 4 percent of employment discrimination cases it reviewed in the last fiscal year, commission spokeswoman Leah Barber-Heinz.
Such a finding generally is needed to take such as case to court, Barber-Heinz said.
Leonard, 46, told FLORIDA TODAY that it seemed like management was systematically trying to force out “older women and minorities.”
In preparing the class-action case, Arcadier said he wants to get information on all employees terminated by Winn-Dixie in the last three years, and analyze it to see if patterns of discrimination emerge.
“It’s expanding now,” Arcadier said about the potential plaintiffs. “I’ve gotten calls from different parts of Central Florida — Gainesville, Daytona, Orlando. But the bulk are from Brevard
Astrid Bickers, another of Arcadier’s clients, said in an affidavit that when she worked as a meatcutter at Winn-Dixie’s Harrison Street store from 2004 to 2006, management treated her and other female employees “disparagingly” — especially older women.
“Women over 40” were “treated very badly, with disrespect,” Bickers, a 41-year-old white woman from Germany, alleged in an interview.
Ricky Graves, a former longtime Winn-Dixie employee who also is a client of Arcadier, said he was demoted from his job as a store manager on Merritt Island. Graves, who is black, said his supervisors replaced him with a younger, white employee.
He said it seemed like the company was trying to force out veteran workers and minorities, as it was working its way out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Contact Blake at 242-3644 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright (c) FLORIDA TODAY. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
April 23, 2008
Winn-Dixie counters discrimination suit
BY SCOTT BLAKE
Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. is counter-suing a group of 26 current and former employees and their lawyer to block their employment discrimination lawsuit against the supermarket chain.
Many of the workers, as well as their attorney, Maurice Arcadier of Melbourne, are from Brevard County, where the company has 11 stores.
In the counter-suit, Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie claims the plaintiffs’ lawsuit should be thrown out because the company is protected from such litigation under its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization case.
The group of employees, working through Arcadier, filed the discrimination suit in November, charging the company’s management with age, gender and racial discrimination.
The suit claims managers at certain Winn-Dixie stores, including some in Brevard County, made derogatory comments to minority and older female employees, cut their work hours and pay, changed their work schedules, demoted them or denied them higher-paying jobs.
In Winn-Dixie’s counter-complaint, the company argues its Chapter 11 filing was approved by the bankruptcy court before the plaintiffs filed their discrimination complaint, thus barring them from making the complaint.
Arcadier called the counter-suit and the company’s requests for numerous records and other information from him and his clients “harassment” tactics.
“This is further evidence of retaliation,” Arcadier said. “The company has been retaliating against my clients from the very beginning.” As part of the litigation, Winn-Dixie has requested the court to order the plaintiffs to produce all documents they have related to their discrimination complaint, including ordering them not to delete any potential information on their personal computers.
The company also is seeking their tax returns and related records since 2004, as well as their medical records, including documents from any mental health treatment they may have received.
Arcadier, who said at this point he plans to comply with the record requests, said the company’s lawyers have also told him and the plaintiffs to be available for separate daylong depositions.
The company defended its lawsuit.
“Winn-Dixie has conducted and continues to conduct itself in a legal, ethical and appropriate manner in its defense against the allegations levied in the case,” Timothy Williams, the company’s assistant general counsel, said in a statement.
Winn-Dixie’s complaint, filed in federal bankruptcy court in Jacksonville, requests the court to order the plaintiffs to drop their discrimination suit and to fine them for each day until they do so.
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It also seeks to bar the plaintiffs from taking any other legal action, compel them to pay the company’s legal costs from the case and award Winn-Dixie an unspecified amount in damages.
Arcadier expects the bankruptcy court to rule on Winn-Dixie’s counter-suit in December.
Last year, the Florida Commission on Human Relations found “reasonable cause” to believe a former Winn-Dixie employee, Tammie Leonard of Titusville, one of the plaintiffs in the discrimination suit, was a victim of age and race discrimination.
A reasonable cause ruling is relatively rare — the commission issued such decisions in only about 4 percent of the discrimination complaints it reviewed in the last fiscal year, commission spokeswoman Leah Barber-Heinz said.
Contact Blake at 242-3644 or email@example.com.
Attorney: Maurice Arcadier
Date Filed: 2007-11-01
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