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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 2:31 pm | Fair 63º


Class Action Discrimination Lawsuit Filed Against Haggen

A class action lawsuit was filed Friday by a developmentally disabled employee of a Goleta Haggen Grocery Store who was laid off earlier this month as the company struggled to establish itself in California.

The Bellingham, Wash.-based chain found itself in hot water this week after news surfaced that the company laid off 14 developmentally disabled people working as courtesy clerks at Santa Barbara County stores. 

The company took over several former Albertsons and Vons locations earlier this year and local nonprofit PathPoint decried the layoffs, since the organization had worked to place those employees in the original grocery stores.

The complaint states that Haggen had assured current employees there would be no changes when the stores were taken over.

"They made promises that everyone would keep their jobs, but that's not what happened," said Matthew Da Vega of the firm Da Vega, Fisher and Mechtenberg, LLP.

Da Vega filed the complaint, which alleges disability discrimination, wrongful termination and unlawful business practices and asks for lost wages, damages and attorney's fees.

The plaintiff in the case is 60-year-old William Morris, who worked as a courtesy clerk at Haggen's Fairview Avenue location in Goleta before being laid off earlier this month.

He had been at the store for three years when it was a Vons location.

He was paid $9.30 an hour and his duties included bagging and carrying out groceries for customers, cleaning areas of the stores like the check-out area, break room and restrooms, and patrolling the parking lot and store to retrieve shopping carts, the complaint states.

The complaint maintains that though the company stated nothing would change during the store acquisitions, "the defendant has engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against developmentally disabled employees by disproportionately terminating them from Haggen's employment."

The complaint also states that the employees' job duties were transferred to non-disabled people without legitimate business justification.

The complaint, filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, also states that there could be as many as 100 people across the state who were laid off by the company and are developmentally disabled.

Bill Shaner, CEO of Haggen, Pacific Southwest, said earlier this week that the company has found expanding the brand in new markets "challenging" and that employees were laid off based on job classification and collective bargaining agreements.

"As part of the reduction, we eliminated the clerks helper job classification in our stores, which unfortunately included some associates with developmental disabilities," Shaner said.

Da Vega said that the company will likely be served with the suit next week, and will have 30 days to respond.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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