Federal officials are suing the Raley’s supermarket chain, alleging one of its Chico stores engaged in religious discrimination against a courtesy clerk, then fired her because she did not complete a shift that conflicted with a religious meeting she had to attend.
The suit, which Raley’s says is unfounded and which it “will vigorously defend itself against,” was filed Wednesday in federal court in Sacramento by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Jennifer Webb, who was hired in May 2014 to work at the Raley’s store on Notre Dame Boulevard.
According to the complaint, Webb told Raley’s supervisors before she was hired that she was a Jehovah’s Witness and because of her beliefs could not work shifts after 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and before 4 p.m. on Sundays because she had to attend religious meetings at those times.
“Ms. Webb was assured that this request for religious scheduling accommodations would be honored,” the complaint states, adding that she was never scheduled to work a Wednesday night until November 2014, when she was told to work from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving.
The lawsuit says Webb left a note for a scheduler and a voicemail for her supervisor reminding them that she could not work those hours but was told two days before the shift that because of Thanksgiving “it didn’t matter” that she had a conflict “and she would have to work on Wednesday as scheduled.”
Webb showed up at 2 p.m. for the shift that day, but after she told a supervisor the could not stay past 5 p.m. “the supervisor terminated Ms. Webb,” the complaint states.
Chelsea Minor, a spokeswoman for West Sacramento-based Raley’s, denied any wrongdoing by the company and said it “is prepared to vigorously defend itself against these unfounded claims.”
“Ms. Webb worked for Raley’s for approximately six months, during which time Raley’s consistently approved her scheduling requests to accommodate her religious beliefs and her child care needs,” Minor said in an email statement to The Sacramento Bee. “Raley’s also consistently accommodated the requests of other employees that shared the same religious faith as Ms. Webb, and has continued to do so since the event Ms. Webb complains of three years ago.
“In fact, Ms. Webb only alleges that Raley’s did not grant her religious accommodation on one day, November 26, 2014. After she left abruptly work part way through her November 26th shift, Ms. Webb failed to report to subsequent scheduled shifts and did not respond to Raley’s attempts to contact her to discuss her absences.”
Minor added that “Raley’s is an equal employment opportunity employer and we pride ourselves on being a great place to work.”
“We will continue to accommodate the religious practices of all of our employees, regardless of faith, just as we did with Ms. Webb,” Minor wrote.
The lawsuit stems from a complaint Webb filed with the EEOC and on Sept. 6. The commission found “reasonable cause” to believe Raley’s had discriminated against her, the suit says. The EEOC wrote to Raley’s on Sept. 7 seeking “informal methods of conciliation” but could not reach an agreement acceptable to the commission, the suit says.
The complaint asks the court to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting Raley’s from engaging in religious discrimination and to compensate Webb for emotional pain and suffering and for punitive damages for Raley’s “malicious and reckless conduct.”
The commission claims in its suit that Raley’s had a total of 16 courtesy clerks employed by the store that day and that at least eight of them who were not working could have been asked to come in and cover the rest of Webb’s shift. There also were two working that day who could have been offered the extra hours, the suit claims.
Privately held Raley’s, based in West Sacramento, owns and operates 123 stores under the Raley’s and other names and employs 12,000 workers. Its annual revenues are $3 billion, according to the company website.