SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by two Latino supermarket workers who allege that they were harassed by their supervisors with taunts about then-candidate Donald Trump’s views on immigration can proceed to trial.
The court’s decision comes in a 2017 lawsuit filed by MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) on behalf of the two men who faced discrimination by supervisors at the Nugget Supermarket store in Davis, California, and by a janitorial service contracted by Nugget. The suit also claims that one of the men was eventually fired after he complained to store higher-ups. It is illegal under federal law to subject employees to abusive and hostile work environments and to retaliate against them for registering complaints about harassment.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez held that the two men brought forth “enough evidence to show a reasonable person in their circumstance would have perceived the managers’ actions as offensive,” and that “a reasonable man in Plaintiffs’ circumstances would have found the hostile conduct sufficiently severe and pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of his employment.”
“Invoking Donald Trump to harass Latino and immigrant workers is unlawful workplace conduct,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “This conduct is grossly inconsistent with the corporate image of Nugget, yet the chain continues to defend the conduct. So we will see the defendants at trial.”
MALDEF represents Jimmy David Ramirez-Castellanos, who is of Salvadoran ancestry and was employed by the janitorial service to work at Nugget Market, and Francisco Javier Gomez Espinoza, who is of Mexican ancestry and was a stock clerk.
The defendants in the lawsuit are Nugget Market Inc., a 15-store chain with outlets in the Sacramento area and in Marin and Sonoma counties, and Issa Quarra, the owner of janitorial service companies that contract with the supermarket, as well as Quarra’s janitorial companies, One Stop Solution and Building Maintenance Group.
“Anti-Latino comments, jokes, and racial slurs in the workplace are illegal and inexcusable,” said MALDEF staff attorney Tanya Pellegrini, “We look forward to taking this case to trial and hope that it will serve as a lesson to Nugget and other employers that discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated.”
Both men say that managers at the market made demeaning comments about the work habits of Latinos and, during the 2016 presidential race, referenced Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric to humiliate them.
Espinoza says he was told that all Mexicans are “garbage” and “criminals” who steal jobs from Americans.
“I see a lot of injustice in this world and I don’t want to be silent about it,” said Espinoza. “The discrimination that happened to me happened to other Latino workers at Nugget, more than anything I want there to be justice for what happened to us and for others to see that it is possible to stand up against injustice.”
Ramirez-Castellanos says store managers mocked his native language and accused him of eating out of the trash because he is Salvadoran. He complained about the way he was being treated and was then fired.
“Nugget says they treat everyone like family, but I never felt like Nugget treated me like family,” said Ramirez-Castellanos.
MALDEF sued the defendants under Title VII and Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits discrimination in the workplace and prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee for asserting his or her rights. Section 1981 prohibits discrimination in employment contracting based on race, alienage, national origin, and immigration status.
A jury trial for the case is scheduled for Aug. 24, 2020.