Albertson's to pay $8.9M in Colorado bias lawsuits

AP News
Posted: Dec 15, 2009 6:40 PM

The Albertson's LLC grocery chain will pay $8.9 million to 168 black and Hispanic workers who said they were subjected to racial taunts and a graffiti-laced restroom depicting lynchings and swastikas, federal officials said Tuesday.

The money is part of a settlement agreement between Albertson's and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which represented the workers in three lawsuits involving the company's warehouse distribution center in suburban Denver.

"Settlements this size don't come down the pipe everyday," said Andrew Winston, the EEOC attorney who handled the cases.

The settlement will be distributed among 168 former and current employees, the EEOC said. Individual payments will range from $4,500 to several hundred thousand dollars, depending on factors such as number of years worked and severity of harassment, said Mary Jo O'Neill, regional EEOC attorney.

The agency said black and Hispanic workers were repeatedly the targets of racial slurs. The graffiti in the restroom also included white supremacist and anti-immigrant statements, according to the first lawsuit filed in 2006.

The graffiti "was so offensive that several employees would relieve themselves outside the building or go home at lunchtime rather than use the restroom," EEOC attorneys said.

Supervisors knew about the harassment and participated in it, EEOC attorneys said.

Albertson's LLC spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said the company maintains that the allegations of racial discrimination happened before it took over operations at the distribution center in June 2006.

"Although we vigorously disputed the allegations made by EEOC, we nonetheless worked in good faith with the EEOC to come to a resolution consistent with our policy of a discrimination and harassment free environment and to put to an end to continued costly and disruptive litigation," Wilcox said in a written statement.

O'Neill disputed Albertson's timeframe, saying the company or one of its affiliates operated the center for several years prior to June 2006. Albertson's LLC is based in Boise, Idaho, and operates almost 250 stores in seven states, including Colorado, Arizona, Florida and Texas.

The distribution center in the Denver suburb of Aurora is being closed but for reasons unrelated to the lawsuit, federal officials said.

The EEOC filed two other discrimination lawsuits against Albertson's LLC last year involving the same distribution center. In one complaint, several workers alleged they were passed over for promotions, given harder jobs and fired in retaliation for complaining about being harassed.

(This version CORRECTS Albertson's ownership to OMIT Supervalu reference and CORRECTS to one restroom in lede.)