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Former Haggen Grocery Employee Claims Wrongful Termination

A former Haggen employee has filed a lawsuit against the grocery chain, alleging she was forced out for trying to correct a price-scanning method that systematically overcharged customers.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in Santa Barbara Superior Court, alleging the Bellingham, Wash.-based chain wrongfully terminated and violated labor code by intimidating an employee at a recently converted Haggen store in Carpinteria.

Six former Albertsons and Vons locations in Santa Barbara County were converted to Haggens earlier this year after the regional chain acquired 146 stores from AB Acquisition LLC and Safeway Inc., the entity created when Safeway (owner of Vons) merged with Albertsons.

Bruce Anticouni of Santa Barbara’s Anticouni & Associates filed the lawsuit on behalf of Debra Sukiasian, who had worked at a Safeway or Vons store for 38 years, most recently as a pricing specialist.

According to the complaint, Sukiasian chose to stay at the Carpinteria Vons where she had worked since 2004 through its June transition into a Haggen location instead of transferring to a different Vons.

When the store switched over to Haggen’s price scanning system, Sukiasian noticed a discrepancy.

“From the very first day plaintiff’s store reopened as a Haggens, plaintiff became aware of discrepancies between the prices marked on shelves for items and the prices the price scanner at the cash registers recognized and charged to customers,” the complaint states. “The register prices were uniformly higher than those marked on the shelves.”

Some customers complained, but many didn’t notice the pricing difference, which Sukiasian pointed out to managers as unlawful false advertising.

When her concerns were ignored, she wrote an email in July to Haggen CEO Bill Shaner, who acknowledged the email and said she’d be contacted by the support team.

According to the complaint, the managers who showed up at the Carpinteria store the following day reprimanded her for telling the CEO and asked a manager to find a way to fire her — a fact the manager told Sukiasian.

Although she was of retirement age, Sukiasian planned to work another two years, the complaint said.

Because she was under such stress at work and worried about explaining to future employers why she had been fired, Sukiasian elected to retire instead of being terminated.

Her last day was Tuesday — the same day Haggen blamed its pricing discrepancies and other woes on false retail data from Albertsons in a $1 billion lawsuit.

Since moving into new markets, Haggen hasn’t been able to find footing. The company has cut employee hours, laid off some workers, and is planning to close or sell 26 stores in five states, many of them acquired this year as part of its deal with Albertsons and Vons.

Haggen is also facing lawsuits from a local workers union and a class-action complaint for letting go 14 developmentally disabled employees.

In the latest lawsuit, Sukiasian demands a jury trial and is suing for an unknown amount of damages.

"Haggen was disappointed to learn about this lawsuit and is confident it has absolutely no merit," a Haggen spokesperson said Thursday.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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