Business & Real Estate

Pregnant women sue Raley’s, alleging discrimination

Luciana Borrego gave birth to a baby boy on Nov. 13, 2013.

It was an event she had joyously anticipated. But, she said, it was tempered by a heavy price: her job in Ukiah at Raley’s, part of the West Sacramento-based retail grocery chain.

In a lengthy telephone interview this week, Borrego recalled informing her managers in June 2013, five months before her baby was born, that she was pregnant. On July 11, she brought in a note from her physician saying she should not lift more than 10 pounds, Borrego said. About an hour later, she said, she was summoned to the store director’s office and informed that she would have to take unpaid leave.

“I was told I would have to go home because, even though I had a doctor’s note, they don’t accommodate pregnant people,” Borrego recounted. She said she was “devastated,” and never went back.

Borrego, 30, is now one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Sacramento Superior Court last Thursday against Raley’s by a group of top employment discrimination lawyers. The suit alleges that Raley’s has an unlawful policy of refusing to offer accommodations to pregnant workers, while making reasonable accommodations for workers who are injured on the job.

In an emailed response to The Sacramento Bee, Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said: “We deny these accusations and take objection to any suggestion that Raley’s does not care about its team members, let alone its pregnant team members.”

Minor said Raley’s has historically gone “above and beyond what is legally required.”

“As a strong, family-owned business, Raley’s fully appreciates the important role women play in the workplace. Raley’s is prepared to defend itself against these charges,” Minor said.

Raley’s operates more than 120 supermarkets in Northern California and Nevada, under the Raley’s name as well as Bel Air Markets, Nob Hill Foods and Food Source.

The second plaintiff, Kristen Kelly, 19, had worked nearly three years at an Antelope Bel Air store when she became pregnant. According to the suit, she delivered the news to several managers last fall and presented a doctor’s note stating she could not lift heavy items.

One of Kelly’s duties on her early shift was sweeping the floor and, because she was experiencing severe morning sickness, the smell on some aisles triggered nausea and caused her to throw up, the suit recounts. Managers denied her request to wear a mask, and also her request on one occasion that someone finish sweeping because she was sick.

The lawsuit says that, in November, the store’s director called Kelly into his office and said “she either had to go on (unpaid) leave, or Raley’s would have to let her go.”

Kelly is still on leave, with a return-to-work date of June 15.

The team of workplace-discrimination lawyers who filed the suit is seeking class-action status and looking for all current and former Raley’s workers in California who were “denied reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions” in the last four years.

The plaintiffs’ legal team is composed of two attorneys from Equal Rights Advocates, a national civil rights organization that advocates for women; The Liu Law Firm in San Francisco, which specializes in employee rights; and the San Francisco office of Outten & Golden, which handles employment cases, including workplace-discrimination matters.

“California has one of the strongest laws in the country for the protection of pregnant employees,” said attorney David Scher, a principal in The Employment Law Group and a nationally known expert on employment law. He does not have a connection to the suit against Raley’s.

“The law in California is very clear,” Sher said. “Pregnancy is equated to disability, in that it impedes the ability of an employee to perform regular functions without accommodations. You can’t fire an employee or diminish pay in any way because of a pregnancy.”

The law also grants pregnant employees the right to light duties, if available, as an accommodation, he said.

Borrego said the store in Ukiah could have easily accommodated her. She worked in the deli and bakery, where she packaged items, decorated cakes and handled restocking and customer service work. The only two things Borrego said she couldn’t do were lift boxes of fried chicken and containers of frozen dough.

Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.