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Race discrimination in employment claims of Latino plaintiffs going to trial

A federal judge in Sacramento, California, is allowing a jury to hear allegations that their grocer-employer violated federal law prohibiting race-based hostile work environment and retaliation for complaining about illegal harassment and discrimination.

We are living in a time of racial tension across the country and unfortunately, this may be reflected in some California workplaces. Discrimination and harassment based on race, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability and other protected classifications are illegal under federal and California law, both of which provide legal remedies for victims through government agencies and courts.

Grocery workers claim discriminatory treatment

On May 27, 2020, a federal judge in Sacramento issued an order that two plaintiffs alleging race-based employment discrimination had presented sufficient evidence of factual issues for a jury to decide whether the facts show illegal employer actions under federal law.

In Ramirez-Castellanos v. Nugget Market, Inc., two grocery workers allege that when they worked for Nugget Market and a contractor with Nugget, they were subject to racially derogatory verbal abuse in the workplace based on their Latino national origin and race, including taunts about immigration. They allege this created a hostile work environment. After they complained, the harassment continued and the employer did not take action to stop it, according to their complaint.

They allege that the harassment was “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to alter the conditions of employment, making work harder and hurting their reputations. They also allege that their employers retaliated against them for complaining of discrimination by firing one of them the next day and other adverse actions.

As a result, the employees claimed they suffered economic loss and emotional distress for which they request compensatory damages, punitive damages (meant to punish and set an example), costs, legal fees, interest and other just and proper relief.

Federal claims go forward

The parties sued under both federal and state laws, but the judge did not allow the state claims to proceed to trial because he found that they had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies under state law. Specifically, he said that they did not get right-to-sue notices from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), a requirement to sue in court under the state anti-discrimination laws.

(This news release from the civil rights organization representing these plaintiffs contains links to their complaint and to the judge’s order.)

Any Californian facing discriminatory, harassing or retaliatory treatment at work should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible for guidance about how to react, legal rights and potential legal remedies.

Employment attorney Daniel Feder of The Offices of Daniel Feder in San Francisco has fought for many years for the rights of employees facing illegal discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination and wage and hour violations in the Bay Area and across Northern California.